Sustainable Green Deal growth only possible with innovative plastics recycling
‘The circular economy must be a guiding principle for EU recovery and future growth plans – especially when it comes to the plastics sector’, says Klaus Wohnig, CEO, APK AG.
‘The COVID-19 pandemic has interrupted recyclers’ supply chains and, aggravated by the low price of virgin materials on top of low oil prices, demand for plastic recyclates has decreased dramatically’. This development is diametrically opposed to the ambitious Green Deal plans of the EU Commission with regard to boosting the quality of plastics recycling, increasing resource efficiency and decreasing emissions. ‘We do need to overcome the COVID-19 pandemic, but this recovery package is also a major opportunity to invest in a Green Deal infrastructure that will carve out new paths for the coming decades of European industrial development’, emphasised Wohnig.
A strong focus on and investments in innovative plastics recycling technologies are essential to the plastics industry’s transition to a circular economy. The European Commission’s Recovery Plan as well as ongoing Green Deal initiatives should therefore facilitate the uptake of market-ready options, such as dissolution recycling, along with future chemical recycling options.
In contrast to conventional mechanical recycling, dissolution recycling processes, such as APK’s Newcycling technology, combine a mechanical pre-treatment with a solvation step. The polymer is purified of different types of contaminants, such as organic impurities, inks and other additives. Dissolution recycling results in near-virgin material quality recyclates. What is more, the process is able to handle complex waste streams, such as multi-layer plastic products. The different polymers are simply separated during the dissolution step. Currently, such technology is often subsumed under chemical recycling – which is inaccurate. The benefits and performance of both technology families need to be evaluated separately. The major difference that sets dissolution recycling technologies apart from chemical recycling is that they do not impact the molecular chain of the polymer, as occurs in chemical recycling processes. The energy that once was invested in polymerisation is saved. Consequently, the environmental impact of dissolution recycling is lower, while it still produces high quality plastic recyclates.
‘With Newcycling, we are not simply aiming to close just any loop in the area of flexible packaging and multilayer plastic waste: we are aiming to create the most closed loop feasible – e.g. from packaging applications to waste and back to the same application’, says Jürgen Flesch, CTO, APK AG. ‘In our process, we put a major emphasis on reducing emissions as much as is possible.’ Newcycling polyethylene and polyamide recyclates feature on average a 66% lower carbon footprint than virgin PE and PA. The technology is not only a cornerstone for plastics circularity, but also an important potential contributor to EU climate protection goals.
Dissolution recycling is covered by the EU Waste Framework Directive definition of recycling. All relevant initiatives at the EU level aimed at facilitating recovery and boosting the efficiency of plastic waste management should acknowledge innovative recycling technologies and their impact on calculations for recycling targets. This would secure investments in a strong mix of recycling technologies, enabling the Member States to match the EU and Circular Plastics Alliances goals in the coming years.