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Plastic Recycling What Are The Leading Plastic Players Doing to Ensure A Circular Economy?

Editor: Ahlam Rais

Right from the United Nations’ Clean Seas campaign to the Paris agreement, single use plastics has become a burning issue across the globe. Nonetheless, prominent global companies have taken up the challenge to create a more sustainable and circular economy for the plastics industry.

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With an aim to make the planet plastic free, global leaders are now investing heavily in R&D and innovative technologies to ensure greater efficiency of the circular economy.
With an aim to make the planet plastic free, global leaders are now investing heavily in R&D and innovative technologies to ensure greater efficiency of the circular economy.
(Source: Deposit Photos)

We are producing over 300 million tonnes of plastic every year out of which a mammoth 50 % is used only for single use. The problem: Plastics are not recyclable and can stay on earth for many decades to come. The plastic menace has resulted in pollution of our lands and oceans. If we browse through the statistics, it shows that more than 8 million tonnes of plastic are dumped in our oceans every year! This situation has placed greater responsibility on market leaders from the plastics industry.

With an aim to make the planet plastic free, global leaders are now investing heavily in R&D and innovative technologies to ensure greater efficiency of the circular economy. PROCESS Worldwide has listed down some of the most recent initiatives undertaken by captains of the industry to ensure greater sustainability of plastics.

Sabic

Circular polymers

Feedstock used: Tacoil by Plastic Energy

Suitable industry: Consumer goods, packaging for food, beverage and personal care products

Status: Begin commercial production in 2021

To boost the circular economy concept, Sabic claims to be the first in the industry to scale-up the innovative chemical recycling process which returns mixed waste plastic to create original polymers. The company’s circular polymers are produced by making use of Plastic Energy’s upgraded pyrolysis oil feedstock which is obtained from the recycling of mixed plastic waste. Sabic and Plastic Energy also have plans to construct a commercial plant in the Netherlands to refine and upgrade the valuable feedstock.

The polymers are expected to be supplied to some of the leading brands across the globe such as Unilever, Tupperware, Vinventions and Walki Group. The move is expected to meet the growing consumer demand for more sustainable products and also aims at ‘closing the loop’ on reutilising plastic waste. The circular polymers are certified through the International Sustainability and Carbon Certification plus (ISCC+) scheme that certifies renewable content and standards across the value chain from source to end product. Sabic will be showcasing its circular polymers at the soon to be held K trade fair in Germany.

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Circular Plastics Alliance

Established by the European Commission, the Circular Plastics Alliance aims to ensure that by 2025, ten million tonnes of recycled plastics are used to make products across Europe. To further promote recycling of plastics in the region, the alliance recently invited around 100 partners to sign the founding act of the Circular Plastics Alliance in Brussels. The partners included manufacturers and processors of plastics, large retailers as well as disposal and recycling companies.

Ineos Styrolution

Polystyrene from 100 % recycled styrene monomer

Feedstock used: Styrene monomer

Suitable industry: Food packaging and consumer products

Status: Research

In a path breaking concept related to the chemical recycling of polystyrene, Ineos Styrolution has created general purpose polystyrene from 100 % recycled styrene monomer. This is owing to experimental polystyrene production runs with styrene monomer feedstock produced from depolymerisation of styrenic plastic. This resulted in the production of virgin material with the same product properties as polystyrene produced from new styrene monomers. Apart from this, Ineos Styrolution has also collaborated with Trinseo and Agilyx to construct Europe’s first polystyrene chemical recycling plant. The new unit is expected to process up to 50 tonnes per day of post-consumer PS feedstock.

At the K 2019 event, the company will be showcasing the first products of its ‘Eco’ range. The products are made from mechanically or chemically recycled post-consumer plastic waste as well as materials based on renewable feedstock. The Eco range is aimed at reducing the amount of post-consumer waste landing up on landfills. It further supports the recycling of post-consumer plastic waste, and efficiently makes use of existing resources to allow for full circularity.

Dow

Bio-based polyethylene

Feedstock used: UPM Bio Verno renewable naphtha by UPM Biofuels

Suitable industry: Food packaging

Status: Commercial production

With an aim to explore alternative sources for the production of plastics, Dow will be incorporating the vital raw material UPM Bio Verno renewable naphtha to manufacture bio-based polyethylene at its Netherland plant. The renewable feedstock is made from crude tall oil, a residue of paper pulp production and plastics made from this feedstock can be fully recyclable. In addition to this, Dow has also collaborated with the Netherlands based Fuenix Ecogy Group to obtain pyrolysis oil feedstock.

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Exxon Mobil

PE laminated packaging solutions

Suitable industry: Food packaging

Exxon Mobil has introduced new full PE laminated packaging solutions including Exceed XP, Exceed and Enable performance PE polymers to solve recycling issues related with conventional laminated structures. A combination of PET, PA, EVOH or OPP is found in laminated packaging structures which makes it a real challenge to recycle them as it’s not an easy task to separate the materials. The new full PE laminated solutions can be recycled with the assistance of PE film where programmes to collect plastic films are present, while delivering the performance properties needed for high-quality packaging.

At the K trade show, Exxon Mobil plans to display these innovative solutions along with several other technologies including a game-changing film technology that combines Exceed XP with Exxon Mobil PP to deliver heavy-duty sack films with extreme performance and high-heat resistance.

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Open standard for traceability and transparency

A new joint project for circularity in the plastics industry has been formed. The stakeholders are Domo, Circularise and Covestro. The project aims to use blockchain technology to set up an open standard for sustainability, traceability and transparency in the plastics industry. The concept allows one to follow the source material through a blockchain pathway which ensures end-to-end product traceability and provenance. At K 2019, Domo and Covestro intend to bring new partners onboard for the project.

BASF

ChemCycling project

Feedstock used: Pyrolysis oil

Suitable industry: Food packaging and consumer goods

Status: Completed pilot phase

BASF is a part of the ChemCycling project, a pilot project by Mondi, the global packaging and paper group and the food-industry supplier, Coroos. The objective of the project was to develop a process for the chemical recycling of plastic waste and it did just that. Similar to players like Sabic, the project was able to convert plastic waste into a pyrolysis oil through thermochemical processes. BASF used the sustainable feedstock as input in its production process to manufacture numerous products.

One of the products developed by the project was a stand-up pouch for food purposes. Also, in its pilot phase, ChemCycling was able to create prototypes for four different companies – Jaguar Land Rover, Storopack, Südpack and Schneider Electric, all of which will be showcased at the upcoming K show. All the products are partly made with raw materials derived from chemically recycled plastic.

Eastman Chemical Company

Recycling of complex plastic waste

Technology used: Advanced circular recycling technology

Eastman has introduced the advanced circular recycling technology. This innovation makes use of polyester waste which cannot be recycled by mechanical methods. The advanced circular recycling technology breaks down polyester-based products into their polymer building blocks by using the methanolysis process. The building blocks can then be reintroduced to the production of new polyester-based polymers. The firm aims to build an advanced circular recycling facility in the next 2 – 3 years.

Apart from this technology, Eastman has launched another innovative solution – the Carbon renewal technology. This technology is equipped to recycle some of the most complex plastic waste such as non-polyester plastics and mixed plastics. The new carbon renewal technology makes use of plastic waste as its feedstock and converts it back to simple and versatile molecular components. The process partially oxidizes the plastic and, at a very high efficiency, converts it into the basic building blocks of certain Eastman products such as advanced materials and fibers segment products. Pilot tests for the technology have been completed and the company now plans to carry out commercial production this year.

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Alliance to End Plastic Waste to invest 1.5 billion dollars

The Alliance to End Plastic Waste (AEPW), a not-for-profit organisation has plans to invest 1.5 billion dollars over the next five years to eliminate plastic waste in the environment. Comprising of nearly thirty member companies, the alliance intends to develop and bring to scale solutions that assist in minimising and managing plastic waste as well as promoting solutions for used plastics in order to establish a circular economy. Members of the alliance are global companies that are located across North and South America, Europe, Asia, Southeast Asia, Africa, and the Middle East.

Lyondell Basell

Bio-based plastics

Feedstock used: Renewable hydrocarbons from Neste

Suitable industry: Food packaging

Status: Commercial production

Together, Lyondell Basell and Neste were able to produce several thousand tonnes of bio-based plastics by making use of Neste’s renewable hydrocarbons that were derived from sustainable bio-based raw materials such as waste and residue oils. Production is being carried out at Lyondell Basell’s production site in Wesseling, Germany wherein the new renewable feedstock was converted directly into bio-based low-density polyethylene and bio-based polypropylene. On closer examination, it was observed that the polymer products comprised over 30 % renewable content.

Recently, Lyondell Basell has also collaborated with the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology to develop a new catalyst and process technology in order to ensure decomposition of post-consumer plastic waste, such as packaging into monomers for reuse in polymerisation processes.

With so many innovative and out-of-the box solutions, one thing is certain – the harmful effects of plastic on the world is not going to be the same anymore.

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