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Towards circular economy in the plastic packaging value chain

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - CIRC-PACK (Towards circular economy in the plastic packaging value chain)

Periodo di rendicontazione: 2018-11-01 al 2020-06-30

"Plastics in general and plastic packaging in particular, have considerably and positively impacted many industries, however it has also led through the years to an unsustainable picture in terms of natural resources an impact to the environment.

CIRC-PACK ""Towards circular economy in the plastic packaging value chain"" aims to develop a more sustainable, efficient, competitive, less fossil fuel dependent, integrated and interconnected plastic value chain. The project targets the packaging value chain, but also the automotive and Absorbent Hygienic Products (AHP) sectors to participate in the pursuit of comprehensive solutions towards a more circular plastic value chain.

The overall project objectives contribute to the main pillars of plastics circular economy:

1-Decoupling plastic value chain from fossil feedstock; by exploring and developing new raw materials coming from renewable resources and waste.

2-Introducing innovative formats and reducing the negative environmental impact of several packaging formats with particularly burdensome end of life; by improving the recyclability of multilayer films (made of different plastic layers) and multimaterial packaging (made of carboard and plastic layers) as well as introducing the biodegradability feature for certain applications.

3-Creating an effective after-use plastics economy; by enhancing economics and uptake of recycling, improving recycling rates in specific sectors and the quality-reliability of recovered plastics for recycling."
All the demonstration activities conducted were grouped in three Demo Cases (DC). After project ending, main results obtained within each DC are:

- DC-A: New packaging solutions made of Biodegradable and Compostable (B&C) plastics from renewable resources.
Key building block production from mixed renewable and fermentable sugars (including test of waste cellulose fraction obtained from AHP recycling) was obtained and validated into biopolyesters. The results showed the equivalence in terms of chemical-physical properties with their standard counterparts.
Based on these results, six different B&C biomaterials, with high content of renewable resources, were studied, developed and tested for flexible and rigid packaging applications, namely carrier bags, shampoo bottles, trays and films for fresh food, coffee capsules and flexible boxes. Prototypes demonstrated high performances and were validated by brand owners and consumers with good acceptance.
The potential recyclability of the new biomaterials was also demonstrated. A 30% of recycled content was defined for keeping quality, functionality and preserving the shelf life of biomaterial.
Also, the recovery of bio-THF, a valuable by-product, of polymerization process, was demonstrated at large scale, obtaining a high purity grade bio-THF suitable for the market requirements.

- DC-B: Eco-friendly packaging designs. Creation of innovative formats and testing materials that improve recyclability and the end-of-life scenario.
New multimaterial packaging for a powder detergent box has been developed, produced and validated, which led to the packaging being market-ready. It i based on a dispersion coating of a biopolymer that provides the barrier properties needed and has an improved end-of-life. Sortability and recyclability were tested and fibres and bioplastic coating can be recycled.
Besides, a biobased and compostable film was validated to replace the current multilayer films. The compostability of the film improves the end-of-life in comparison to the existing solutions, which are non-recyclable.

- DC-C: Creation of an effective after-use plastic economy by means of multisectorial approaching, adapting sorting technologies and in-line monitoring system.
In terms of enhanced recycling, the CIRC-PACK project achieved percentage increase of the post-consumer and post-industrial plastic waste that can be recycled, with the help of compatibilizers and controlling the final properties through the monitoring and adaptation of extrusion parameters. Therefore, it was possible to generate new pieces of plastic products using recycled plastic from different waste origins.
In addition, a recycling protocol was generated and validated for the automotive sector to recover and recycle its own plastic waste, in a first step towards making it a zero-waste industry.

All the innovations have been assessed to quantify the improvements in terms sustainability and circularity. Significant reductions, up to 30% and 53%, were achieved on Global Warming Potential and Fossil Resources Scarcity respectively.

With the experience gained during the project, an online tool was launched ( to help packaging manufacturers and designers in the transition to more sustainable packaging and to raise awareness on how to improve the circularity and recyclability of packaging.

DCs work was supported by non-technological analysis (involving end users) and advanced methodological analysis triggering a broadly deployment of the tested solutions. The integration of Industrial Symbiosis concepts, the assessment on the replicability and upscaling of the developed solutions, together with a roadmap for the large-scale implementation of innovations were conducted. Legislative barriers and standardization landscape were analysed as well. Furthermore, Key Exploitable Results were defined and market potential, exploitation and business plans outlined. Moreover, validation actions with consumers were performed, as well as seven events in different European countries.

Finally, a wide range of Communication & Dissemination activities have been performed such as: videos, brochures, project website update, social media publications, attendance to events, etc. In addition, 2 scientific papers and 1 industrial article were published showing the achievements made during CIRC-PACK.
The main challenges addressed during the project are devoted to the improvement of recycling economics and quality, the recyclability improvement of multilayer and multicomponent packaging and the reduction of fossil resources dependency.

The project validated the applicability of new B&C bioplastics for several application as well as the recovery of bio-THF, valuable for other industries, which constitutes a step beyond the state of the art and a contribution to the circularity of innovation.

Besides, new eco-designed alternatives for multilayer and multicomponent packaging with better end-of-life impact were designed and validated, being already market ready. These new formats mean an improvement of 100% as they current counterparts are non-recyclable.

Finally, conventional recycling was improved and recyclability of multisectoral material boosted. The lack of reliability of recycled plastics is a major barrier for recycling full deployment. Thus, the monitoring and control system developed is a key step to overcome this barrier that prevents recycling from up taking. Also, the improvement of plastic waste sorting will contribute to increase the range of separable materials and to reduce the rejected flows.

CIRC-PACK has contributed to a near zero plastics to landfill and to a new plastic packaging value chain: reduced use of fossil-based plastics, increased recycling rates and landfilling reduced.