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Waste plastics

A smarter way of dealing with plastic

Globally only about 20% of waste plastics are recycled. Boosting that figure remains a challenge as recycling plastic cleanly can be expensive and usually produces lower-value products, often making it financially unviable.

The new method from researchers at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, can produce high-value products from plastic – carbon nanotubes and clean liquid fuel – while simultaneously upcycling agricultural and organic waste.

The team’s two-step process, revealed in the Journal of Environmental Management, converts organic waste into a carbon-rich and high-value form of charcoal, then uses this as a catalyst to upcycle the plastic.

Lead researcher Associate Professor Kalpit Shah said upcycling two massive waste streams through one circular economy approach could deliver significant financial and environmental benefits.

“Our method is clean, cost-effective and readily scaleable,” Shah said.
“It’s a smart solution for transforming both used plastic and organic waste – whether tonnes of biomass from a farm or food waste and garden clippings from household green bins.

“We hope this technology could be used in future by local councils and municipal governments to help turn this waste into genuine revenue streams.”

High-value nanomaterials 

The new plastic upcycling approach offers a sustainable alternative for the production of carbon nanotubes (CNTs).

These hollow, cylindrical structures have exceptional electronic and mechanical properties, with applications across a broad range of sectors including hydrogen storage, composite materials, electronics, fuel cells and biomedical technologies.

Carbon nanotubes are in growing demand, particularly in aerospace and defence, where they can facilitate the design of lightweight parts. The global market for CNTs has been projected to reach $5.8 billion by 2027.

Turning old into new  

The new method starts with converting agricultural or organic waste to biochar – a carbon-rich form of charcoal often used for improving soil health.
The biochar is used to eliminate toxic contaminants – such as Poly-cyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons, known as PAHs – as the waste plastic is broken down into its components of gas and oil.

The process eliminates those contaminants and convert plastics into high-quality liquid fuel.

At the same time, the carbon in the plastic is converted into carbon nanotubes, which coat the biochar.

These nanotubes can be exfoliated for use by various industries or the nano-enhanced biochar can be used directly for environmental remediation and boosting agricultural soils.

The study is the first to use low-cost and widely available biochar as a catalyst for making contaminant-free fuel and carbon nanomaterials from plastic.
Shah, the Deputy Director (Academic) of the ARC Training Centre for Transformation of Australia’s Biosolids Resource at RMIT, said while the study only investigated one type of plastic the approach would be applicable to a range of plastic types.

“We focused on polypropylene as this is widely used in the packaging industry,” he said.

“While we need to do further research to test different plastics, as the quality of the fuel produced will vary, the method we’ve developed is generally suitable for upcycling any polymers – the base ingredients for all plastic.”

Hyper-efficient reactor 

The experimental study conducted at lab scale can also be replicated in a new type of hyper-efficient reactor that has been developed and patented by RMIT.
The reactor is based on fluidised bed technology and offers significant improvement in heat and mass transfer, to reduce overall capital and operating costs.

The next steps for the upcycling research will involve detailed computer modelling to optimise the methodology, followed by pilot trials in the reactor.
The team from RMIT’s School of Engineering is keen to collaborate with plastic and waste industries to further the research and investigate other potential applications of the upcycling method.

The research was supported through an Australian Research Council DECRA Fellowship.

Read the paper

RecyClass publishes sorting protocol for plastic packaging

Destined to any company that would like to analyse the sortability of its innovative packaging, in line with design for recycling principles.

Recyclability must be verified at every step of a recycling process and assessing plastic packaging’s sortability plays an important role in claiming whether and to what extent a product is recyclable. Following the definition of recyclability, a plastic product can be considered recyclable not only if it is collected, recycled in a commercially available process, used in the manufacture of new products but also when it is sorted into an aggregated stream.

“A holistic approach to recyclability is necessary if we are to make it happen in Europe by 2030”, said Vincent Mooij, Director at SUEZ.circpack®. Martine Brandsma, Director of NTCP added: “The ‘Sorting Protocol for Plastic Packaging’ complements the Recyclability Evaluation Protocols”, she continued “Sharing and implementing best practices and standards in the collection and sorting as well as harmonising them across Europe must follow now if we are to move the needle on design for recycling further.”

With that purpose in mind, RecyClass developed together with SUEZ.circpack® and NTCP a standardised protocol that evaluates at an industrial scale sorting behaviour of plastic packaging for the following recycling streams: PE flexibles, PP flexibles, PET bottles, PET trays, PP rigids, HDPE rigids, PS rigids. It aims to recognize any design issues that may prevent the detectability of a specific product leading to it ending up in a different stream due to, for example, a large label or a sleeve which are made of a different polymer than the main body of the product. What makes the ‘RecyClass Sorting Protocol for Plastic Packaging’ document comprehensive, is that it includes all the steps involved in the collection, transportation, and sorting, starting with the packaging waste compaction and ending with the Near-Infrared detection step. This all-inclusive approach is indispensable in evaluating properly the sorting behaviour of packaging.

The Sorting Protocol provides a testing methodology with detailed procedures and sampling methods. To assess the feasibility and operational aspects of the protocol trials were carried out at Suez sorting lines and NTCP Test Centre.

Any company interested in a third-party analysis of the sortability of its innovative packaging to identify possible sorting issues, can contact RecyClass to receive more details about the process.

Furthermore, RecyClass is looking forward to collaborate with other sorting centres from across Europe. Any interested organization can apply to become an accredited sorting facility.

Sorting Evaluation Protocol for Plastic Packaging

Solvay announces solution for recycling PVDC

Solvay, a company delivering high performance materials for safe and reliable food packaging, has conducted a proof of concept showing that polyvinylidene chloride (PVDC) has the potential to be recycled. PVDC is used in food, beverage and healthcare multilayer barrier packaging across the world.

The proof of concept involves a process to recycle Ixan® PVDC bioriented film from a post-industrial waste source from food packaging without compromising the performance of the high barrier polymer. It marks an important step towards more sustainable and circular packaging applications, with the potential to launch other initiatives like recycling post-consumer packaging containing PVDC.

“The proof of concept developed by our research team is a solution for PVDC packaging circularity. It shows there is a possibility to reintegrate the recycled polymer into future applications, meaning it can be re-used and re-blended with virgin materials – without losing or degrading its high barrier properties,” said Claire Guerrero, Global Marketing Manager for Packaging Segment and Sustainability at Solvay.

“The recycling technology developed by our team enables us to achieve the right quality so that the recycled PVDC meets the strict requirements for indirect food contact, creating the closed loop,” adds Yves Vanderveken, Senior Project Portfolio Leader R&I.

Maintaining the high quality of the polymer was essential to Solvay in their quest to find a sustainable solution. Solvay specialty polymer’s function of providing a strong barrier against water, oxygen and aromas is why it is used in essential applications to preserve food and reduce waste. A reduction of these properties would defeat its purpose.

Now that this initial breakthrough has been achieved, Solvay is urging fellow companies operating within the plastics industry to work together to turn the recycling of PVDC into reality. There is a particular need to introduce the infrastructure required to collect and segregate packaging containing PVDC.

Tomra: New flake sorting Test Center in Italy

Under the theme of “Testing is believing,” Tomra representatives welcomed approximately 100 participants to its exclusive opening event and guided tour of the new flake sorting facility, located next to its office in Parma, Italy. The inspiring afternoon was filled with informative presentations and demos highlighting the company’s long-term plastics strategy, the purpose and goal of the new facility, and the numerous advantages it offers customers.

Fabrizio Radice, VP and Head of Global Sales and Marketing at Tomra Recycling, started the exclusive event and gave a detailed explanation of the rationale behind investing in a new Test Center. “We have observed an increasing demand for flake sorting tests and a strong market push for high-quality recycled plastics,” Radice told the large crowd. “This requires the purest material fractions across all plastics applications, and the respective technologies and solutions need to be identified, developed, and optimized. This will happen in our new facility, while closely collaborating with our customers and partners.”

In fact, customer collaboration is at the core of the new facility. Customers from around the world can now ship their plastic flakes to Parma. Together with their respective sales contact, the materials are processed by Tomra’s flake sorting machines. Based on the test analysis and results, Tomra will recommend the most suitable machine, process and sensor configuration for the customer’s defined sorting requirements and goals. Customers are provided with an entire business case tailored to their needs before making an investment.

Tomra’s customers have been benefitting from this concept that has been offered globally (Germany, United States, Japan, Korea, China) for decades. They can now enjoy extended testing capacities, shorter lead times and greater flexibility when it comes to scheduling tests. In addition, its location proves to be particularly convenient. Situated in Parma, at the hearth of one of Europe’s most important industrial and production regions, it can be easily reached via the international airports of Milan, Bologna, Verona and Bergamo.

In the second part of his presentation, Radice, detailed why Tomra is a ‘One Stop Shop Solution.’ First, TOMRA offers a vast portfolio of sensor-based sorters for various applications with Autosort and its application-specific complementary products at its core. In the plastics segment, Autosort offers technologies for both presorting and flake sorting that work in unison with each other and allow greater operational and financial benefits. Second, going beyond technology, customers and partners profit from Tomra’s in-depth application knowledge, invaluable consultancy expertise and ongoing service support. The alignment of machines combined with vast expertise and a one-stop service translates into maximum plant performance.

Following Radice, Alberto Piovesan, Segment Manager Plastics EMEA & Americas, presented Tomra’s flake sorting strategy and position in the plastics segment. The audience learned that the company aims to accelerate and shape the development of the sector through its vast application and industry expertise, its consultation, and the most advanced technologies.

The new Test Center will play a crucial role in doing so, as accentuated by Piovesan. “Within only 1.5 years, we established a place where new ideas and innovations are born to best respond to current market trends. More importantly, we are working on solutions that are indispensable for any sorting and recycling plant targeting to successfully upgrade plastics.”

Strong emphasis was also put on the new trends in plastics recycling and the implication these trends have on the industry. One of the trends is seen in a discrepancy of input and output qualities. Whereas input materials are expected to come with lower qualities, the required output must feature the highest qualities possible.

Facing and solving these new challenges makes the application of the latest sorting technologies critical. As an industry pioneer, Tomra clearly understands its role in the segment and continuously develops new technologies and optimizes existing ones to best serve both the customers’ and market’s needs. Piovesan stated that current market trends have resulted in high demand for recycled polyolefins, but recycling rates are still low. Since the company sees increasing potential in polyolefin recycling, it will further devote its attention and expertise to innovate PO-applications. Currently, Tomra is well-positioned in the flake sorting segment and offers two sophisticated flake sorting units.

Ida Semb, Product Manager at Tomra Recycling, offered more detail and presented the key features of Autosort Flake and Innosort Flake, both of which are used for the recovery of plastic flakes (PET, PO, PVC) as small as 2mm and deliver the purity rates demanded by the market, brand owners and converters. Autosort Flake excels in high-end applications where the level of contaminants is rather low, but the quality requirements are particularly high. Innosort Flake is applied for more contaminated streams and is available with a PO-specific sensor to sort polyolefins. With its 2-meter width, Innosort Flake provides accurate sorting result while sorting up to 6 tons per hour.

At the close of the presentations, Ida Semb, Product Manager, and Robert Glaser, Technical Product Expert Flake sorting, joined Alberto Piovesan and moved on to the demo session. All participants were guided into the Test Center, where both machines proved their capabilities in the recovery of polyolefins from highly contaminated material mixes and in color sorting.

After all international participants learned about the company’s plastics strategy, positioning, and available solutions for upgrading recycled plastics, Radice returned to conclude the event. He thanked the customers and press titles for being part of the opening celebration and summarized the key take-aways before the group enjoyed networking opportunities. “We are excited about having guided you through this inspiring and informative day. Our key-message is that we are dedicated to shaping the plastics recycling segment and contribute to it with our comprehensive expertise, technologies and, finally, our passion and commitment to enable greater circularity of our resources. With our new Test Center, we are moving ahead and focusing on the development of new solutions for tomorrow’s challenges. We are your partner and live up to our promises. We invite you to come, test your material on our machines and believe in what is possible in upgrading plastics.”

Sabic and Microsoft collaborate on recycled ocean plastic

Microsoft began this project with an objective of creating a plastic resin made from at least 10% recycled ocean plastic as part of its commitment to achieve zero waste by 2030. After hearing the initial vision for the project, Sabic joined the effort to source the recycled material and to formulate a resin that satisfied Microsoft’s demanding quality standards. The Microsoft design team collaborated with technologists at Sabic to provide feedback on prototypes made with the new resin. The final product contains 20% recycled ocean plastic by weight in its external casing or “shell.”

Flexible film recycling capacity grows by almost 10%

The new estimate points to 2.7Mt capacity for PE film recycling with 30 new film recycling facilities, totalling 218.

Representing a demand of more than 9 million tonnes, LLDPE/LDPE is the second-largest plastic fraction in the EU market and therefore shows a major recycling potential. Today 17% of recycled flexible polyethylene already finds outlet in film-to-film applications with non-food packaging and building & construction being its largest markets, while the forecasts show that PE film products could incorporate overall as much as 38% of recycled content by 2030.

“Once deemed difficult to recycle, flexible household polyethylene waste recycling is a successful business case model of today. Fast-paced technological developments in collection, sorting and recycling, made it possible to recycle film back to film. Closed-loop recycling is the future of circular flexible plastic, placing Europe as a front runner of mechanical film recycling. This is a strong signal not only for investors but also brand owners, retailers, policy-makers and citizens,” said Ton Emans, President of Plastics Recyclers Europe and PRE LDPE-Working Group Chairman. “This does not mean that there are no challenges. The main obstacles in targeting new high-end applications are multi-layer & multi-material products, which are not in line with the Design for Recycling principles”, he added.

The growth of flexible plastic recycling, however, is set to expand thanks to the ongoing positive trends. Firstly, with extended collection schemes being implemented across the Member States to reach the EU recycling targets, the collection of flexible plastic film from households is set to grow. Secondly, better sorting technologies paired with the effort of EPR systems and sorting centres generate mono-material streams, gradually decreasing mixed polyolefin fraction. Lastly, with flexible plastic value chain players’ commitments to improving the recyclability of plastics, as well as incorporating recycled plastics in their products, demand for high-quality recycled flexible PE will further grow.

To pursue these positive trends, nevertheless, the industry players must look towards long-term solutions and not quick fixes. To give an example, the Quality Recycling Process developed by Ceflex is not in line with the objective of making flexible packaging household waste fully circular. On the contrary, it will jeopardize well-established and well-functioning recycling processes while bringing efforts of making flexible plastic packaging fully recyclable to a standstill. Implementation of this ‘so-called’ new solution will generate additional tonnages of mixed polyolefins which can be destined only to an already saturated injection moulding market that cannot absorb the important quantities coming from recycling of flexible household waste. Furthermore, using recycled materials to substitute wood, glass or metal can never be the industry target.

“Processes which propose only 20 % of the recycled film back to film applications and 80 % to injection moulding are a step backwards for our industry as they are not aligned with the principles of the circular economy”, stated Ton Emans, President of Plastics Recyclers Europe and PRE LDPE-Working Group Chairman. “It will never be a profitable business case”, he added.

If the industry is to transform flexible plastic waste management genuinely and durably towards circularity, the focus must be on further optimizing and advancing the already well-performing processes and solutions to produce the highest quality of recycled material, driving the uptake of recyclates in film applications.

Flexible film recycling capacity grows by almost 10%

The new estimate points to 2.7Mt capacity for PE film recycling with 30 new film recycling facilities, totalling 218.

Representing a demand of more than 9 million tonnes, LLDPE/LDPE is the second-largest plastic fraction in the EU market and therefore shows a major recycling potential. Today 17% of recycled flexible polyethylene already finds outlet in film-to-film applications with non-food packaging and building & construction being its largest markets, while the forecasts show that PE film products could incorporate overall as much as 38% of recycled content by 2030.

“Once deemed difficult to recycle, flexible household polyethylene waste recycling is a successful business case model of today. Fast-paced technological developments in collection, sorting and recycling, made it possible to recycle film back to film. Closed-loop recycling is the future of circular flexible plastic, placing Europe as a front runner of mechanical film recycling. This is a strong signal not only for investors but also brand owners, retailers, policy-makers and citizens,” said Ton Emans, President of Plastics Recyclers Europe and PRE LDPE-Working Group Chairman. “This does not mean that there are no challenges. The main obstacles in targeting new high-end applications are multi-layer & multi-material products, which are not in line with the Design for Recycling principles”, he added.

The growth of flexible plastic recycling, however, is set to expand thanks to the ongoing positive trends. Firstly, with extended collection schemes being implemented across the Member States to reach the EU recycling targets, the collection of flexible plastic film from households is set to grow. Secondly, better sorting technologies paired with the effort of EPR systems and sorting centres generate mono-material streams, gradually decreasing mixed polyolefin fraction. Lastly, with flexible plastic value chain players’ commitments to improving the recyclability of plastics, as well as incorporating recycled plastics in their products, demand for high-quality recycled flexible PE will further grow.

To pursue these positive trends, nevertheless, the industry players must look towards long-term solutions and not quick fixes. To give an example, the Quality Recycling Process developed by Ceflex is not in line with the objective of making flexible packaging household waste fully circular. On the contrary, it will jeopardize well-established and well-functioning recycling processes while bringing efforts of making flexible plastic packaging fully recyclable to a standstill. Implementation of this ‘so-called’ new solution will generate additional tonnages of mixed polyolefins which can be destined only to an already saturated injection moulding market that cannot absorb the important quantities coming from recycling of flexible household waste. Furthermore, using recycled materials to substitute wood, glass or metal can never be the industry target.

“Processes which propose only 20 % of the recycled film back to film applications and 80 % to injection moulding are a step backwards for our industry as they are not aligned with the principles of the circular economy”, stated Ton Emans, President of Plastics Recyclers Europe and PRE LDPE-Working Group Chairman. “It will never be a profitable business case”, he added.

If the industry is to transform flexible plastic waste management genuinely and durably towards circularity, the focus must be on further optimizing and advancing the already well-performing processes and solutions to produce the highest quality of recycled material, driving the uptake of recyclates in film applications.

Recyclable PVC to remain polymer of choice for medical devices

The high volume and PVC’s unique recyclability indicate that hospitals should start with PVC in recycling schemes for plastics-based medical devices.

Almost 30% of the plastics-based medical devices are manufactured in PVC, which makes the material the most used polymer for bags, tubing, masks and other disposable medical devices. The remaining share is divided between ten different polymers. This is one of the key findings in a new market study conducted by Global Market Insights Inc., a global market research and management consulting company. The study also forecasts that PVC will retain its number one position until at least 2027.

PVC is easily recyclable and so versatile that devices which require both soft and rigid parts can be made entirely of one polymer – a key to successful plastic recycling. The high volume and PVC’s unique recyclability indicate that hospitals should start with this plastic material when they consider recycling schemes for their medical plastic waste.

PVCMed Alliance Project Manager Ole Grøndahl Hansen comments on the new findings: “COVID-19 has highlighted the crucial role played by single-use plastic medical devices in the prevention and control of infection in hospitals. The negative side-effect of this success has been growing amounts of hospital plastic waste. We believe recycling is part of the solution. Fortunately, the most used plastic in healthcare is also the most recyclable plastic, and we therefore urge hospitals to start their recycling activities with PVC.”

The presence of CMR substances in some PVC devices has thus far been a barrier to recycling of medical PVC. According to Ole Grøndahl Hansen this challenge has now been solved: “For almost all applications, alternative plasticizers for PVC are available and are being used. Four of these are now included in the European Pharmacopeia, which sets the safety and quality guidelines for medical products in Europe and beyond.”

The European PVC industry, through VinylPlus, has invested in recycling of PVC medical devices since 2014 when the RecoMed take back scheme was established in the UK. The scheme was inspired by the successful PVC in hospitals recycling project in Australia and New Zealand, which involves over 250 hospitals.

In February 2021, VinylPlus launched a collaborative project called VinylPlus® Med. Aimed at accelerating sustainability in healthcare across Europe through the recycling of discarded single-use PVC medical devices, the project brings together hospitals, waste managers, recyclers and the PVC industry in some selected European countries.

The scheme will focus on the production of PVC recyclates free of substances of concerns that can be included into a wide range of value products marketed across Europe. Belgium is chosen as pilot country with The Europe Hospitals, Renewi (waste management company) and Raff Plastics (recycler) as partners. The built-up of additional programmes is underway in other European countries.

Recyclable PVC to remain polymer of choice for medical devices

The high volume and PVC’s unique recyclability indicate that hospitals should start with PVC in recycling schemes for plastics-based medical devices.

Almost 30% of the plastics-based medical devices are manufactured in PVC, which makes the material the most used polymer for bags, tubing, masks and other disposable medical devices. The remaining share is divided between ten different polymers. This is one of the key findings in a new market study conducted by Global Market Insights Inc., a global market research and management consulting company. The study also forecasts that PVC will retain its number one position until at least 2027.

PVC is easily recyclable and so versatile that devices which require both soft and rigid parts can be made entirely of one polymer – a key to successful plastic recycling. The high volume and PVC’s unique recyclability indicate that hospitals should start with this plastic material when they consider recycling schemes for their medical plastic waste.

PVCMed Alliance Project Manager Ole Grøndahl Hansen comments on the new findings: “COVID-19 has highlighted the crucial role played by single-use plastic medical devices in the prevention and control of infection in hospitals. The negative side-effect of this success has been growing amounts of hospital plastic waste. We believe recycling is part of the solution. Fortunately, the most used plastic in healthcare is also the most recyclable plastic, and we therefore urge hospitals to start their recycling activities with PVC.”

The presence of CMR substances in some PVC devices has thus far been a barrier to recycling of medical PVC. According to Ole Grøndahl Hansen this challenge has now been solved: “For almost all applications, alternative plasticizers for PVC are available and are being used. Four of these are now included in the European Pharmacopeia, which sets the safety and quality guidelines for medical products in Europe and beyond.”

The European PVC industry, through VinylPlus, has invested in recycling of PVC medical devices since 2014 when the RecoMed take back scheme was established in the UK. The scheme was inspired by the successful PVC in hospitals recycling project in Australia and New Zealand, which involves over 250 hospitals.

In February 2021, VinylPlus launched a collaborative project called VinylPlus® Med. Aimed at accelerating sustainability in healthcare across Europe through the recycling of discarded single-use PVC medical devices, the project brings together hospitals, waste managers, recyclers and the PVC industry in some selected European countries.

The scheme will focus on the production of PVC recyclates free of substances of concerns that can be included into a wide range of value products marketed across Europe. Belgium is chosen as pilot country with The Europe Hospitals, Renewi (waste management company) and Raff Plastics (recycler) as partners. The built-up of additional programmes is underway in other European countries.

Delays in ecodesign threaten EU climate targets and cost citizens billions

The European Commission is dragging its feet in the development of ecodesign and energy labelling rules for products, mainly due to a lack of resources as these policies are not given the prominence and resources they deserve.

Ecodesign and energy labelling policies alone are expected to deliver about one-third of the savings needed to achieve the EU’s 2030 55% emission reduction target.

However, only 25% of updates foreseen for the 2016-2019 period have been implemented to date. In parallel, the Commission is still developing its Working Plan for 2020-2024, which is expected to be adopted with at least a 2-year delay.

Delays in developing ecodesign and energy labelling policies are estimated to cause 10 million tonnes (CO2eq) of additional emissions every year by 2030, according to new analysis by ECOS and the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) for the Coolproducts campaign. This is equivalent to 5 million cars added to our roads.

Without delays, consumers could save a total of 40 billion euros on their energy bills between 2020 and 2030. As it is, however, an average European household will now spend an extra 110€ on energy by 2030 as a direct result of poor policymaking.

The current situation raises concerns over the Commission’s allocation of resources to essential climate and product policies.

Resource shortages clash with the high relevance that ecodesign and energy labelling policies are set to represent in the much-anticipated Sustainable Products Initiative, a flagship file currently under development by the Commission.

To make up for the time already lost and harvest the potential additional savings, environmental organisations call on the Commission to allocate adequate staff numbers and political urgency to crucial ecodesign and energy labelling policies, switching towards a much more ambitious implementation of the existing regulations.

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