Breaking the Mould: How Plastek UK is Rising to the Challenge of the Circular Economy

Plastek UK is playing a pivotal role in the Group’s 5-year strategic plan to evolve our entire business around the demands of the Circular Economy. A Net-Zero operation is our ultimate goal, and we are investing millions to achieve it as quickly as possible.

Amongst the areas in which we have already found considerable success are:

  • Increased use of Post-Consumer Resin (PCR)
  • Light-weighting (via thin-walling or redesign)
  • Reduced Product Carbon Footprint

Post-Consumer Resin

It has been calculated that products manufactured from PCR have a carbon footprint that is around 25% less than products made from virgin resin.

The use of PCR brings two immediate benefits:

  • It breaks the dependency on virgin materials produced from natural resources using fossil fuels.
  • It creates a use for material that would have been waste.

It is therefore a valuable contribution to the eventual creation of Circular Economy.

Plastek UK’s own PCR journey began in 2020 with a single product, but that one project saw us convert more than 60 metric tonnes of PCR. That’s 60 metric tonnes of virgin material that didn’t follow the linear path from fossil resource, to product, to waste bin.

This project has already greatly increased, now covering 3 products which represents more than 75% of one customer’s entire portfolio and will see us convert an estimated 804 tonnes in 2022 and 1381 in 2023.

And that’s not all. Via similar projects across the Plastek Group, we are now able to convert approximately 6000 metric tonnes of PCR per year – and the quantity will continue to rise as we help more FMCG and Pharma companies to achieve their sustainable packaging ambitions.

PCR does present us with some production challenges because there can be flecks or tinting in the finished product. However, Our self-developed control system is able to match a current colour variation against a saved catalogue of variants. In effect, the system stores its previous experience, learns, and then makes the necessary adaptations. Within just 1 year we were able to create a catalogue of sufficient variation possibilities that the system is now fully able to ‘take care of itself’. This represents a huge step forward in the accurate, high-speed manufacture of plastic mouldings using recycled polymer.

However, it is the wider implications of this particular technological development that are especially impressive. Our ability to convert our existing vision control systems to allow the processing of PCR resins with minimal disruption to the line’s operation and at zero hardware cost, makes the transition to recycled resin considerably more cost-effective and viable for existing and new customers.


In products which are not suitable for PCR manufacture, we are working hard to reduce environmental impact by combining design excellence and technical skill to modify products to use less raw material whilst retaining consumer appeal and functionality.

Using thinner walls and redesigning components to remove any material that does not add value can have remarkably worthwhile effects when multiplied over the very large production runs that are typical for Plastek.

Additionally, our engineers are now trialling foaming technology which can reduce the amount of plastic used within the internal structure of mouldings whilst leaving the surface perfectly finished and the functionality unaffected.

Product Carbon Footprint

Working towards a Circular Economy is an activity that affects all areas of industry, not just our sector.

Plastek is leading the way with a new project which focuses on the three products we have now moved from virgin resin to PCR. This ‘cradle to gate’ study assesses the carbon footprint of these products throughout their lifespan, allowing us to demonstrate the reduction we have achieved and also helping us to develop new ways to lessen our products’ carbon footprint still further.

Plastek Group CDP Performance

Measuring Success – The Carbon Disclosure Project

Plastek Group is proud to have been an early adopter of the Carbon Disclosure Project, which provides countries, cities, government departments and businesses with data systems to allow them to assess and track their environmental impact.

CDP assesses a wide range of inputs to determine environmental performance, with particular attention to carbon efficiency and factors that affect climate change. The organisation is then ranked in 4 categories: “Awareness (D), Disclosure (C), Management (B), and Leadership (A)”.

Plastek Group is currently partnering with the Industrial Recycling Group (IRG) on an exciting and far-sighted project to create a 220,000 sq ft plastics recycling plant close to Plastek Group’s HQ in Erie, Pennsylvania. The operation aims to recycle 276,000 tons of plastic waste annually, producing 60,000 tons of usable PET, HDPE and PP. Remarkably the same process will also produce 125,000 tons of ‘CleanRed’, or Clean Reduction Fuel which can be burned by the local steel industry’s blast furnaces creating a valuable secondary carbon reduction.

Here in the UK, a £2 million investment in the installation of solar panels has been signed off and this will dramatically reduce the carbon footprint of our production by 2023 and then into the future.