Reuse: Black plastics

3 May 2023

One of the cases in our current exhibition, Reuse, looks at the problems that black plastics have when it comes to the recycling system and therefore how the material is then reused.

When products and packaging made of plastics enter the recycling system, they need to be separated into individual materials, for example PET, HDPE, or PP, so that they can become useful recyclate. In automated systems, this is done using a Near Infrared (NIR) Identification system. A beam of light is shone at the material and interacts with the chemical compounds of the waste; the light will either be absorbed or reflected across a spectrum of wavelengths providing a signature for the material. Black plastic products are not able to be sorted using the NIR device because the carbon black pigments absorb all of the light, making it impossible to see the signature of the material. As such black plastic packaging is often rejected for recycling.


Voet, V., Jager, J., Folkersma, R., 2021. Plastics in the Circular Economy, De Gruyter graduate. De Gruyter, Berlin & Boston. P231

Because the black pigments make it difficult to identify the materials much work has been done to discover create other pigments that still keep the black colour for brands to use in their packaging.  In 2018, Gourmet Dairy Brand, The Collective worked with recycling experts Nextek Ltd and the South Wales-based additive and masterbatch specialist, Colour Tone, to develop a new black masterbatch.

The result was a revolutionary colourant technology that enables the effective detection and sorting of black plastic waste for recycling into high quality materials.  If other fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) producers were to follow The Collective’s lead, it could have helped to reduce the 1.3 billion black single-use food pots, tubs and trays that are sent to landfill each year – around 30,000 tonnes.[1]

From October 2018, the black lids on The Collective’s 450g and 900g yogurt tubs featured the new NIR reflecting colourant to help ensure that the consumer recycling efforts do not go to waste.  The Collective says that it is ‘very proud to be leading the change’ on the recyclability of black plastics and that it is the first food and drink brand to launch a special detectable black lid. 


The Collective Great Dairy Yoghurt pot, AIBDC : 008198

This process was all part of the food producer making a brand promise to go cleaner by encouraging everyone to ‘eat better. do better.’[2] Other actions by the company included making the UK’s 1st carbon neutral dairy yoghurt in September 2021 and committing to making all our products carbon neutral by 2025.

Unfortunately, the company found that the recycling system was not yet in step with the changes they had made.  The black lids had to be replaced in May of 2021 with clear alternative because it was found that consumers had become used to discarding the lids into general waste and recycling centre staff, unaware of the change, continued to remove the black plastic.


The Collective Gourmet Yoghurt pot, AIBDC : 009565

Louise DennisCurator of MoDiP 

[1] ‘When Black Is Green: Yoghurt Manufacturer Takes on Sustainability Challenge’, British Plastics and Rubber, Nov / Dec, 2018, 25.

[2] The Collective, ‘Going Greener’ <; [accessed 12 December 2018].