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Circular Plastics Initiative

European Industry joins forces in Circular Plastics Initiative

At least 50 per cent of the plastics produced in Europe are lost: they end up in incinerators, drift around as litter or cannot be recycled. As a result, plastics are losing ground in the social debate. This is a pity, because plastics are functional, lightweight and strong and can therefore be used in a variety of applications. If we want plastics to be revalued, new technological developments will be needed along the entire value chain – from production via collection and sorting to recycling and end-use. It is with this aim in mind that two Netherlands-based institutes – ISPT and DPI – are bringing together players from the plastics, food and recycling/ waste processing sectors in an international collaboration centered around the theme of circular plastics.

The importance of plastics in our society cannot be emphasized enough. Tjeerd Jongsma, director of ISPT, mentions the food industry as an example: “Today, some 50 to 70 per cent of products from the fresh food chain do not even make it to the consumer. This percentage can only be reduced through the use of plastic packagings. It is important, however, that these packagings do not end up in the natural environment.” Anton van Beek, Group President UK, Nordic and Benelux at Dow Chemical, agrees: “Moreover, plastics are far too valuable to be treated as waste. Plastic waste is the feedstock for circularity.” Jacques Joosten, managing director of DPI, adds: “Fortunately, there are plenty of technologies for the recycling of plastics. But it’s an entirely different matter when it comes to implementation on an industrial scale. In this collaboration, we will be developing the technology needed to close the complex Europe-wide logistic loop for plastics”.

Addressing the entire value chain

Jongsma explains that in order to create a circular value chain for plastics, all parties involved – from production via collection and sorting to recycling and end-use – need to be interconnected and that this has to happen at an international level: “For the circular process to be effective, all raw materials must return to the materials producer, which means that this needs to happen at least at European level. What is essential here is that the logistic and technological challenges are addressed in conjunction.”
Chemical companies, food producers and waste processors from various countries, including global packaging company Amcor, recycling technology multinational Tomra, waste processor Omrin, international toy manufacturer LEGO and chemical giants such as Dow and Nouryon, have already joined the international collaboration. Under normal circumstances, players from these sectors do not have the opportunity to meet one another, but the ISPT-DPI initiative will help to bring them together.

Focus on logistics and chemical recycling

As a first step in fulfilling the mission to create an international circular plastics value chain, two projects will be undertaken. The focus of the first of these projects will be to carry out a detailed analysis of plastics from post-consumer waste streams from different regions of Europe: which materials do the waste streams consist of (polymers, additives, contaminants, etc.) and which recycling technologies can be used for these waste streams? Scenarios will be made as to how improvements to the material and sorting process can be made as early as 2025.

The aim of the second project will be to analyze chemical recycling (in particular pyrolysis and gasification) in more detail and as a part of the chain. By using these technologies, plastic waste is reduced to its chemical building blocks, which can then be re-used to make plastics. The relation between the quality of the input, the process and the different processing factors involved and the quality of the output will be examined, as well as how this relation could be influenced.

Working together to create the best circular system

Meanwhile, efforts to attract more companies and organizations from various countries to join the collaboration will be continued, with the support of the existing partners. VNO-NCW, the Confederation of Netherlands Industry and Employers is taking an active part in the process. Anton van Beek: “Collaboration within the chain, with the end-user, the convertor, the brand owner and the producer, will enable the players to work together to create the best possible circular system.”