20 pan-European partners, led by the Packaging and Logistics Research and Innovation Center (ITENE), are working to reinvent the plastic packaging treatment process, making recycling more accessible, cost-effective and profitable for both citizens and professionals in the field.
The project, funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme, will rethink the different phases involved in transforming waste into valuable products: from the development of smart containers for separate waste collection to the improvement of transport routes and sorting technologies. The overall aim is to achieve recovery within the same value chain.
PlastiCircle (Improvement of the plastic packaging waste chain from a circular economy approach) kicked-off at a meeting on 20-21 June in Valencia, Spain, gathering partners from nine countries who illustrated the innovations planned for each stage of the process. These will be piloted in the cities of Utrecht (Netherlands), Valencia (Spain) and Alba Iulia (Romania).
First, an innovative collection system able to identify the quantity and quality of packaging deposited in the containers by each citizen will help to implement a system of incentives. The idea is to encourage better separation of plastic waste and to reduce the amount of mixed waste that is generated.
The second action will focus on the transport phase, decreasing the final price of recovered plastic by saving fuel and transport costs from municipalities to sorting plants. A sensor which indicates how full waste containers are will update truck routes in real time, and a waste compactor installed on-board will maximise the amount of waste transported per route. Operators will be trained to drive efficiently.
The third step will enhance sorting technologies to achieve a better separation of different types of plastic in treatment plants, including multilayer and multi-material packaging, since plastics can be only recycled if separated correctly.
The last step will see the reprocessing of these materials into products like automotive parts, foam boards for wind turbines and roofing structures, garbage bags, asphalt, fences and benches – based on extrusion, injection and compression moulding – thereby closing the loop.
PlastiCircle will also define business plans and promote market uptake of the proposed solutions through training and awareness raising activities for citizens, institutions and private companies.
César Aliaga, project coordinator, stated: “Today, over 25.8 million tonnes of plastic waste are produced per year in the EU (50kg per citizen), with only 29.7% recycled, while 39.5% is incinerated and 30.8% goes to landfill1. Plastic recycling can be improved if we increase collection rates and implement new sorting technologies that enable the transformation of high-quality separated plastics into useful products with clear commercial value.
Although packaging represents 63% of the total plastic waste generated in Europe2, only 34% of it is recycled3, with lower rates in the East and the South. This has a huge environmental impact and is a clear waste of resources.”
His colleague Óscar Ruiz concluded: “Turning plastic waste into a valuable resource through a holistic approach will support the achievement of EU targets, such as the goal to recycle 75% of packaging waste by 20304, and ultimately benefit society. These innovative manufacturing processes are expected to lead to better waste management in general and have a positive impact on the European economy, including massive job creation.”
PlastiCircle is a four-year project. Its results will be openly accessible via the project website (to be released in November 2017).