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Improvement of the plastic packaging waste chain from a circular economy approach

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - PlastiCircle (Improvement of the plastic packaging waste chain from a circular economy approach)

Reporting period: 2018-12-01 to 2020-05-31

Over the past 50 years, the role and importance of plastics in our economy has consistently grown. Global production of plastics has increased twentyfold since the 1960s, reaching 322 million tonnes in 2015. Low recycling rates of plastic mainly come from issues with packaging waste. This is the main plastic waste fraction, representing 63% of the total plastic waste generated in Europe (16.25 Mt). Additionally, there are specific limitations on recovery because packaging waste is mainly a domestic residue and consequently the quality of the material collected depends on the system of segregation available and the behaviour and environmental awareness of citizens. Only 31.1% of plastic packaging waste is recycled in Europe.

The improvement of domestic packaging waste collection and treatment is a key factor for guaranteeing the circular economy of plastics, and should be even higher in Eastern and Southern Europe where packaging recycling rates are lower. In Central and Northern Europe the challenge is to develop value-added applications for the packaging fractions currently not properly valorized (i.e. PET, PE, PP, PS, and plastic mixes).

The main objective of PlastiCircle is to improve the Circular Economy of Plastics (Closure of the European Plastic Loop). With this in mind, a holistic treatment process will be developed for the reintroduction of plastic packaging to the plastic value chain. The PlastiCircle approach is based on innovation in the four stages associated with plastic packaging treatment: collection, transport, sorting and recycling. PlastiCircle aims to develop and implement a holistic process to increase packaging waste recycling rates in Europe. To reach this target, PlastiCircle focuses on innovation in the different stages associated with the treatment of plastic packaging waste (collection, sorting, transport and recycling).
Work on the project is divided in four main areas: collection, transport, sorting and recycling:

COLLECTION: Work consisted on development, integration and validation of an innovative packaging collection system which increases the amount of plastic packaging waste collected, improving quantity and quality of plastic packaging waste collected. A system which is able to identify packaging generated by each family/citizen, with a view of implementing compensation policies to encourage optimal collection.
After technology implementation and installation on pilot cities (Valencia and Utrecht), these were proved on real environments. Valencia case is the most representative due to a full implementation of all the technologies and the results among PlastiCircle participants are quite remarkable in terms of quality of the selective collection and the implication and environmental awareness form the citizens.

TRANSPORT: In the framework of WP3 different technologies have been developed: route optimization system based on the information provided by the smart container developed on WP2. The main objective is reducing costs and emissions on the collection system. A eco-driving and truck traceability technology which provide information about the way of driving the trucks. Finally, an IoT platform has been developed for gathering all the data provided by the different technologies, includes the information related to the smart container (WP2), the results of characterization protocol applied and the reward system.
In the Utrecht pilot the scalability of the route optimization system has been tested and demonstrated, acknowledging the potential of the PlastICircle algorithm for its exploitation in comparison to other commercial alternatives.

SORTING: Near-infrared testing has been also carried out to acknowledge effectiveness and purity from PICVISA optical sorter were proved at CALAF test-stands for different fractions and packaging typologies achieving improved results for all fractions. On parallel, stabilization film conveyor was developed to increase the % recovery from films with positive results for conditions.
In this way, sorting technologies were explored and particularly tested for the packaging waste coming from pilot cities, to evidence impacts from a better selective collection and improved sorting infrastructure.

RECYCLING: WP5 work has been completed in defining the requirements for the manufacturers and sourcing recycled polymers from kerbside collected, household waste. Initial trials have been carried out by the manufacturers to test a large number of samples at lab scale to determine the quality, and then develop plans for modifying the polymers in order to meet the requirements. The main challenges have been around the quality of rPET form thermoforms and the difficulty in converting crystalline PP to amorphous for the use in bitumen modified membranes. There have been some successful pilot and production scales in using rPET tray rich (20% tray) material in foamed boards, injection moulded automotive parts and successful replacement of the crystalline PP in the roofing membrane. Three out of the 5 manufacturing partners have successfully demonstrated the use of recycled polymer from packaging in to their products. The remaining two partners have sourced material and are in the initial stages of trials at pilot and production scale.
PlastiCircle is focused on the development of a holistic process on collection/transport/sorting/recycling which leads to the closure of the plastic loop. It represents, therefore, a clear market opportunity for the plastic sector since it will allow the recovery of plastic waste fractions that are currently landfilled (i.e. 5.04 Mt) and incinerated (i.e. 5.69 Mt).

Although number of Participants from Pilots is not representative for considering a whole big city behaviour, if we focus on the results from participants, content on PlastiCircle bags consist of a high content on recoverable materials and therefore, few unwanted materials (8% on average). This fact together with the compact PlastiCircle system developed, advances a solution for improving packaging recycling on European cities interested on following our approach.

Plastics andfilling/incineration plastics generates substances which can be progressively increase human health and other environmental affections. Based on results from pilots, PlastiCircle enables a major valorization of plastic waste in recycling and converting processes. This will lead to the reduction of these impacts, preserving human health and offering to citizens a better environment.

Furthermore, recycled content in non-packaging applications need more focus. Long life products that often do not come into contact with people are ideal for using recycled content and should only use virgin as a last resort. There are limited financial benefits to using recycled polymer in non-packaging applications and when virgin prices are low manufacturers will often switch. The benefit for each application is different. The use of non-bottle PET is vital for the circular economy. The quality is often not suited to recycling back into packaging so long life options such as insulation foam and automotive parts could be a good option. LDPE and PP are very common polymers in packaging, but closed loop back into packaging is difficult technically and with regulations. It is expected by the end of the project, there are end markets developed for all fractions recovered from post-consumer household packaging.