Plastic flexible films are increasingly used in many applications due to their lightness and versatility. In 2014, the amount of plastic films represented 34% of total plastic packaging produced in UK. The flexible film waste generation rises according to the increase in the number of applications. Currently, in developed countries, about 50% of plastics in domestic waste films. Moreover, about 615,000 tonnes of agricultural flexible waste are generated in the EU every year. A review of plastic film recycling has been conducted in order to detect the shortcomings and establish guidelines for future research.
This paper reviews plastic film waste management technologies from two different sources: post-industrial and post-consumer. Clean and homogeneous post-industrial waste is recycled through closed-loop or open-loop mechanical processes. The main differences between these methods are the quality and the application of recycled materials. Further research should be focused on closing the loops to obtain the highest environmental benefits of recycling. This could be accomplished by minimizing the material degradation during mechanical processes. Regarding post-consumer waste, flexible films from agricultural and packaging sectors have been assessed. The agricultural films and commercial and industrial flexible packaging are recycled through open-loop mechanical recycling due to existing selective waste collection routes. Nevertheless, the contamination from the use phase adversely affects the quality of recycled plastics. Therefore, upgrading of current washing lines is required. On the other hand, household flexible packaging shows the lowest recycling rates mainly because of inefficient sorting technologies. Delamination and compatibilization methods should be further developed to ensure the recycling of multilayer films. Finally, Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) studies on waste management have been reviewed. A lack of thorough LCA on plastic film waste management systems was identified.