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Post-Consumer High-tech Recycled Polymers for a Circular Economy – PolyCE

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - PolyCE (Post-Consumer High-tech Recycled Polymers for a Circular Economy – PolyCE)

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

Traditional linear manufacturing and consumption models (“take, make and dispose”) of electronic products are related to significant negative environmental externalities. According to the UN, waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) is now the fastest-growing waste stream in the world with an estimated arising of 48.5 million tonnes in 2018. While metals are usually recovered from the WEEE stream because of their high material value, post-consumer recycled (PCR) WEEE plastics often end up in incineration or landfill.
Due to increased use of plastics and low recycling rates, plastics has been identified as one of the key priority areas to deal with for a sustainable future in the EU (EU action plan for the Circular Economy). Furthermore, the EC published a Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy in 2018 in order to tackle the important issue of plastics and to pave the way to a more sustainable use of this material. PolyCE joins this effort by addressing the numerous barriers related to PCR WEEE plastics recycling along the entire value chain.
On the business side, the project brings together all actors along the value chain. Furthermore, the project addresses consumers of products containing PCR plastics, which is crucial to spread awareness and build an environmentally sustainable society. In addition, universities are encouraged to promote environmentally friendly product design with recycled plastics and lifecycle thinking in their curricula.
Recycling of WEEE plastics has the potential to make an important contribution to create local and sustainable jobs. Estimations indicate that the enforcement of higher recycling rates could contribute to 80.000 new direct jobs by 2025, mainly in the sector of collection, sorting, separation and recycling.
The objectives of PolyCE are to demonstrate circular economy solutions while re-designing the value and supply chain for plastics contained in WEEE.
Objective 1: Development and validation of circular business models for an enhanced plastics economy.
Objective 2. Bring together key players and build a network of experts from the entire plastics supply and value chain.
Objective 3: Enabling and strengthening the market of WEEE post-consumer plastics through an online marketplace.
Objective 4: Re-design the value chain of recycled plastics by establishing the most effective methods for reverse logistics, product clustering and supply chain management for improved collection, sorting and reprocessing.
Objective 5: Decrease the environmental footprint related to virgin plastics and improper end-of-life treatment of WEEE plastics.
Objective 6: Maximise awareness through information and promotion.
Objective 7: Increase employment and create green jobs
Objective 8: Harmonize and innovate policy by a direct feedback loop from the research activities and project outcomes.
"A thorough analysis was delivered focused on the consumer level of adoption of circular consumption models, elaboration of circular business models as well as a business case analysis.
To re-design the value chain, the first step performed was to map how WEEE streams are currently managed in Europe taking into account WEEE flows, quantity of WEEE and types of plastics treated. In parallel, innovative collection and clustering approaches were formulated. Through re-grouping of WEEE product categories based on polymer content, new WEEE clusters were i tested with the overall aim to facilitate the subsequent downstream processes and increase the quantity and quality of the PCR plastics.
Ten concrete action points were formulated providing treatment operators with a clear set of requirements. The grading system for recycled plastics was developed in close cooperation with potential customers. Relevant criteria were defined that can be implemented in the online market platform KunststoffWeb. The platform provides information on material exchange, stakeholder information and network possibilities for and with the input of all actors across the value chain.
A Phase-Gate approach was further developed that defines the phases in the plastic recycling supply chain and aims to assure compliance with end requirements and increase the confidence and value of recycled plastics, while simplifying and minimizing the testing costs.
So far, many of the PolyCE demonstrators show that between 70 % and 100 % PCR content is technically feasible. For all demonstrator cases there is a minimum of one example of a product or part with TRL7 or higher expected by the end of the project. Some demonstrators have already reached TRL 9.
New flame retardant systems and additives as antioxidants, acid scavengers and UV stabilizers have been developed and tested in different polymeric matrix (PC/ABS, PC) in order to guarantee their reprocessability and fulfil the requirements demanded by the market.
“Guidelines on Life cycle thinking integration and use of PCR plastics in new electronic products” have been developed, presenting design strategies that can help increase the uptake of recycled plastics in new electronic products. Environmental assessments have been carried out, in particular on recycling processes of PP and sensitivity analysis. Currently, results are discussed internally towards allocation of burdens, quality deviations and amounts of calcium carbonate input.
A one-day technical workshop was organised in Philips HQ in Amsterdam. Two PolyCE Academies took place at Gent University (2019) and the TU Berlin (2020). Both events provided trainings to practitioners and higher education students on how to integrate lifecycle thinking into their products, business, academic or industry careers.
A consumer campaign on the benefits of recycled plastics was launched. All campaign creative content is still being promoted via PolyCE own website and YouTube channel. A high-quality landing page and promotion campaign were developed with the aim to encourage awareness and use of circular consumption projects and businesses.
PolyCE partners have been actively engaging policy makers and NGOs at EU and international level during related policy events. In January 2018 the consortium jointly published a Reflection Paper on EU’s Plastics Strategy showcasing our support for the initiative and pointing out how our objectives are in line with the Strategy. In 2019, two position papers were published with statements on the classification of WEEE plastics as ""hazardous waste"" and on the recycling of black plastics."
The fulfilment of objectives 4 and 5 is expected to substantially improve the efficient use of resources in Europe, leading to significant reduction of adverse environmental impacts, such as climate change. Furthermore, a substantial reduction of the generation of residual waste is envisioned by applying the principles of the waste hierarchy, compared to current best practice. Creating new business opportunities for industry (in particular SMEs) in the EU, contributing to the exploitation of EU innovative solutions, and improving the competitiveness of European enterprises in the global market for eco-innovative solutions is supported by the fulfillment of objectives 2, 3, 6 and 7. Objective 8 leads to providing evidence-based knowledge for enabling framework conditions (such as the regulatory or policy framework) that facilitate a broader transition to the circular economy in the EU.