2018 Show Directory

NPE is truly ‘Breaking the Mold’ as a multifaceted experience, with activities, discoveries and opportunities to satisfy the needs of anyone who works in the plastics industry or has a need to know about plastics

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Page 214 of 591

PACKAGING EUROPE: LEADING THE GLOBAL DISCUSSION ON THE FUTURE OF PLASTICS A mid a flurry of popularly driven single-bullet announcements on plastic waste and packaging, the EU's new strategy is a typically deliberative and balanced approach, setting out to define how plastics fit the broader circular economy agenda. The strategy aims to protect the environment from plastic pollution whilst fostering growth and innovation, turning a challenge into a positive agenda for the Future of Europe. There is a strong business case for transforming the way products are designed, produced, used, and recycled in the EU and by taking the lead in this transition, we will create new investment opportunities and jobs. Under the new plans, all plastic packaging on the EU market will be recyclable by 2030, the consumption of single-use plastics will be reduced and the inten- tional use of microplastics will be restricted. First vice-president Frans Timmermans, responsible for sustainable development, said: "If we don't change the way we produce and use plastics, there will be more plastics than fish in our oceans by 2050. We must stop plastics getting into our water, our food, and even our bodies. The only long-term solution is to reduce plastic waste by recycling and reusing more. This is a challenge that citizens, industry and governments must tackle together. With the EU Plastics Strategy we are also driving a new and more circular business model. We need to invest in innovative new technologies that keep our citizens and our environment safe whilst keeping our industry competitive." The new plastic strategy seeks to transform the way products are designed, produced, used, and recycled in the EU. Too often, according to the Commis- sion, the way plastics are currently produced, used and discarded fail to capture the economic benefits of a more circular approach. It harms the environment. The goal is to protect the environment whilst at the same time lay foundations to a new plastic economy, where the design and production fully respect reuse, repair and recycling needs and more sustainable materials are developed. The Commission claims that Europe is best placed to lead this transition and the new approach will bring new opportunities for innovation, competitive- ness and job creation. With the plastic strategy, the Commission has adopted a Monitoring Framework, composed of a set of ten key indicators which cover each phase of the cycle, which will measure progress towards the transition to a circular economy at EU and national level. Under the new strategy, the European Union will: • Make recycling profitable for business: New rules on packaging will be developed to improve the recyclability of plastics used on the market and increase the demand for recycled plastic content. With more plastic being col- lected, improved and scaled up recycling facilities should be set up, alongside a better and standardised system for the separate collection and sorting of waste across the EU. This will save around a hundred euros per tonne col- lected. It will also deliver greater added value for a more competitive, resilient plastics industry. In January the European Commission unveiled its first European Plastics Strategy, which sets out to reduce single-use plastics, restrict microplastics and ensure that all polymeric packaging sold in the EU is recyclable by 2030. THE PLASTICS STRATEGY REGULATION CHEMICAL RECYCLING 101 cleaned by a mechanical process," points out Antonino Furfari, managing direc- tor of Plastics Recyclers Europe. "Potentially, chemical recycling could be used for difficult to recycle streams where conventional mechanical recycling cannot provide an adequate solution." This would increase the recycling rates if waste is properly managed and collected. He cautions that this potential should not be used as an excuse for disregarding better design for recycling and postponing the urgent need to recycle more today. "Nonetheless, chemical recycling could become a complement to mechanical recycling today for that market share of products that are not conventionally recyclable." "Today's sorting technologies are incredible, able to distinguish between colours and polymer types," professor Van Geem remarks. "However, there is a question at which point it is economical to stop. Another constraint is the energy required to transport waste. Logistics is a key criterion in viability and in recycling there is a debate around the merits of localised vs centralised systems. With chemical recycling there is the potential to operate on a smaller, more local scale – or even to carry out mobile recycling: move the recycling operation, rather than transporting the waste." 3. What are the likely applications? Chemical recycling is already in proof of concept stage in some applications, with numerous pilot projects currently in progress. One example is the CreaSolv ® Process, developed by Fraunhofer IVV and being applied by Unilever to recover plastic from sachets in order to reuse material. The process involves three main steps. First is dissolution of the target plastic using a selective solvent – while other components in the waste fraction remain undissolved. Next contaminants are separated from the recovered polymer solu- tion. Finally comes precipitation of the target plastic from the purified polymer solution. Last year Unilever opened a pilot plant in Indonesia (a critical arena in the fight against waste, producing 64 million tonnes every year, with 1.3 million of these ending up in the ocean) to test the long-term commercial viability of the technology in the sachet application. Speaking more generally, there is lots of scope for packaging-to-packaging applications. "In principle, going back to the basic chemical building blocks (polystyrene to styrene, polyethylene to ethylene, etc.) means recycled plastics can end up in applications similar to their original use," comments professor Van Geem. "Moreover, one of the generic advantages of going back to the pure chemical building blocks is that it creates products with no contamination from their original usage. This means they are 100 per cent safe for food, which has been a difficult application area for mechanical recycling." 4. What are the barriers? A key roadblock to chemical recycling making a significant contribution to bringing plastics into the circular economy is absence of capacity. As Antonino Furfari notes, there has been much research over the past ten years, but more has to be done to build sustainable streams to support it, with only a handful of chemical recycling facilities currently in business. "We're probably some years away from feedstock recovery playing a major role," predicts Adrian Whyle. "These things inevitably don't happen overnight. We need investment and infrastructural changes across multiple stakeholders to effect the necessary collection of waste. We need to work out how to introduce feedstock into cracking facilities. Crackers themselves involve huge invest- ments. The waste management sector has a key role to play in reshaping the processes, as do local authorities." "One of the chief requirements now is getting the incentives in place to realise the potential of chemical plastics recycling," suggests Kevin Van Geem. "The EU's Plastics Strategy is a very positive step in this respect. Chemical recycling is economically viable, but there's still a need to work out the right models that work locally in the context of a particular infrastructure. We can see some important developments happening in the course of the next five years, with investments in several plants announced by Indaver happening here in Belgium alone." This is not to suggest that further innovation is not needed. "While robust technologies are already available, it would make things much easier if we could improve the selectivity of the process," says professor Van Geem. "In the terms of my analogy if we could select only the yellow bricks." "There is progress in relation to all the challenges," concludes Mr Whyle. "The evolution of technology is gathering pace, with much activity, ranging from early stage R&D to pilot projects. There's particularly important work going into catalytic processes. Initiatives such as Project Beacon, involving Zero Waste Scotland and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, are worth keeping an eye on. Moreover, we're delighted with the Commission's active role as recently outlined in the Plastics Strategy. This will support both basic research and the develop- ment of new systems and catalysts, as well as helping drive the required change and investment." CHEMICAL RECYCLING Breaking apart LEGO bricks, unbaking a cake back to its original ingredients… Recourse to metaphorical language is a sure sign that the world hasn't fully assimilated a concept. It's certainly true that chemical recycling is no more than a vague presence in the margins of public discourse about plastic waste. Three of the industry's experts spoke about the potential of the technology to (self-confessed non-chemist) Tim Sykes. Adrian Whyle, PlasticsEurope Antonino Furfari, Plastics Recyclers Europe 1. What are the basic principles? C hemical recycling is not a new concept in itself. However, it is right now the focus of intense innovation aiming to enable the recycling of mixed plastic waste streams. "There's only so much you can do with mixed streams using mechanical recycling, because they're hard to separate, in addition to the contami- nation issues," according to Adrian Whyle, resource efficiency senior manager at PlasticsEurope. "Therefore, the potential to 'unbake the cake' and take it back to its original ingredients is a game-changing option. Hopefully the possibility of recover- ing feedstocks will in turn drive enhanced collection of plastic waste." "A substantial proportion of polymers can be mechanically recycled – roughly 30 per cent – but many products like multi-layer packaging are difficult to recycle in the traditional way," explains professor Kevin Van Geem, director of the Centre for Sustainable Chemistry at Ghent University. "The classic recovery approach for these products has been energy conversion, that is to burn the unrecyclable materials to produce steam. However, this also generates a consid- erable amount of CO 2 , resulting in a high environmental impact." Chemical recycling represents a preferable approach. "I like to use the anal- ogy of LEGO blocks: we strip down the material to its original chemical building blocks," professor Van Geem continues. "The key question is how far this process goes – do we go all the way to single blocks (monomers) or do we stop at longer combinations of blocks (intermediate stages)? The basic objective is to close the cycle. The fewer steps included in this cycle, the better and less capital intensive the process will be. Polystyrene can quite easily be reduced to mono- mers, whereas the story for polyethylene is more difficult, requiring intermediate steps. Meanwhile, with multilayer packaging you need to break the material down into its separate components which can be illustrated by combinations of the red, blue and yellow blocks in the LEGO analogy. This may involve catalytic upgrading and complex separations, which are quite energy intensive. The key is again to minimise as many steps as possible because they require capital and operating expenditures." 2. What respective roles can chemical and mechanical recycling play? There is broad consensus that the two approaches have a complementary relationship. "As the chemical recycling process itself involves a chemical reaction, specific waste input has to be used, which has very often been already CONNECTING PACKAGING TECHNOLOGY

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