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

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - PolyCE (Post-Consumer High-tech Recycled Polymers for a Circular Economy – PolyCE)

Reporting period: 2017-06-01 to 2018-11-30

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.
PolyCE partners identified 305 key stakeholders from the industry, civil society, politics and academics and established an expert database. Currently, the expert network consists of 63 members. These are actively engaged in contributions and provide regular feedback on the project’s progress.
The team developed circular business models and discussed them with key stakeholders as part of a detailed survey and interview process. Key factors were analysed together with drivers and barriers and five business models were identified and scrutinized under different aspects in the electronics sector.
Project partners calculated WEEE inputs as well as the quantity and type of polymers in the output fraction of WEEE treatment facilities. Furthermore, different shredding technologies and their output particle size as well as sorting technologies and their required input particle sizes were identified and analysed. The analysis was completed by an investigation of samples of plastic flakes provided by pre-processors. Results showed that different sorting technologies require different particle size ranges for efficient separation. A particle size between 10-20 mm increases the recyclability of the plastic fractions and minimizes the losses into fines.
PolyCE partners defined minimum requirements for distinct plastic grades of different PCR plastics. A methodology was developed based on the quality needs for the demonstrator case studies and currently available testing techniques. Analyses showed that the requirements depend on the targeted applications and that technical requirements depend on the stage of the plastic material value chain.
A systemic categorization of the plastic types present in WEEE at end of life was made, summarizing the possible additives that can be found in WEEE plastics and how these polymers can be stabilized for further use.
A tactile tool (dEEEterminator) was developed by the team in order to help designers to select PCR plastics. It includes features frequently used for material evaluation and selection. Furthermore, a priority plastics guide was developed entailing recommendations related to the avoidance of toxics and material purification as well as less material variety.
The project team also performed an analysis of the secondary market for post-consumer plastics. Furthermore, the basis for an interactive geographic map of the recycling market situation was established.
Work on the PolyCE demonstrators was launched, bringing together the knowledge from previous activities into large-scale demonstrators. The demonstrators are established by Ecodom (Clustering collection of WEEE for better yield and quality of recycled materials), Puzzelephone (Spine, Heart and Brain casing for modular phone), ONA (modular lighting fixture proving the quality of recycled materials), Pezy (SME demonstrator case, sensor housing), Philips (shaver demonstrator, floor-care demonstrator and packaging demonstrator) and Whirlpool (Washing machine tub and dishwasher basement). Initial trials show that 90 – 95 % of PCR plastics can be used in certain plastic parts.
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.
Philips demonstrator
PolyCE determinator
Philips demonstrator, around 90% PCR-ABS
Philips demonstrator, around 90% PCR-ABS
PolyCE dEEEterminator