“We need to get going towards application-driven recycling”

The National Test Centre Circular Plastics has state-of-the-art technology and facilities for sorting and separating plastic waste streams. With testing and research on an industrial scale, it contributes to closing the plastic loop for packaging materials. But what is most important, says NTCP director Martine Brandsma, is to develop an integral approach in view of circularity. “Optimal recycling really doesn’t mean that all recyclate has to be similar to virgin plastic.”

“We live in a country where waste management used to be focused on disposing the waste in a responsible and controlled way,” says Brandsma. “In itself that works quite well. But if we want to put circularity first, we need a different approach from a perspective of recovering potential resources instead of disposing waste. We have to look at the entire value chain, from raw material production to design, disposal and reuse”.

Circular Plastics Initiative - Martine Brandsma of NTCP - picture NTCP by Henry Dullink
NTCP director Martine Brandsma – NTCP picture by Henry Dullink

… if we want to put circularity first, we need a different approach from a perspective of recovering potential resources instead of disposing waste.

That’s a rather surprising message coming from a centre of expertise in sorting and washing. After all, this represents just a single step in the cycle. How does the NCTP fulfil its role across the entire value chain?

“On the one hand, we indeed serve the companies that sort and separate plastics. At our centre, we have the same equipment but we have modified this to properly monitor, adjust and test the complete processes. Furthermore, we test on an industrial scale and carry out analyses on actual, genuine waste streams and we are investigating new, innovative technology. Another sensor, a robotic arm, a completely new instrument: we examine if it works and how it contributes to the business case. We conduct research for companies in the industry while their own installations can keep on operating.”

“The other side of the story is that as an independent test centre we can serve every stakeholder along the chain. This is the first independent test and development organisation in Europe in the field of plastics separation. We’ve only just started, but everyone already knows where to find us. We work together in research projects with companies such as Dow and Shell, but also Albert Heijn, Unilever, Friesland Campina, you name it.”

Plastic waste sorting and separating at NTCP
Plastic waste sorting and separating at NTCP – NTCP picture by Henry Dullink
An experiment at NTCP
An experiment at NTCP – NTCP picture by Henry Dullink

What exactly do these parties want from NTCP?

“We provide insight into the way that the packaging materials of their products behave in the process of separation and sorting. From there on we work together from an integral perspective: how do you design a packaging, what purpose do you have in mind, which materials do you use, how are you going to recycle them and what are you going to do with the recyclate? That’s all equally important and that’s precisely why we focus on all stakeholders in the entire chain: plastic producers, packaging producers, brand owners, retailers, waste collectors, sorters and recyclers.”

“In fact, this is also the perspective of our participation in the Circular Plastics Initiative (CPI). As NTCP, we are responsible for the CPI work package on sorting and washing, but together with all participants we are considering the complete chain of plastic recycling”.

What are, in your view, the prospects? Will there ever be a sorting and washing process that allows for 100% recycling of plastics?

“Technically that could indeed be possible. If we take the time to identify each piece of plastic we can already get a great result, even though this yields types of packaging plastic that are very difficult to reuse. But we have to keep things practical. The reality is that in the current sorting process pieces of plastic are positioned on a belt that operates at a speed of three meters per second, sometimes with the pieces on top of each other, and that the separating air pulse might at times not be properly directed. There is always a balance between the speed at which you want to separate, the result you want to achieve and what you are prepared to pay.”

I think that with the current technology we can make a big step towards the 100%, through better co-ordination and optimisation along the chain.

“Nevertheless, I think that with the current technology we can make a big step towards the 100%, through better co-ordination and optimisation along the chain. In my view, it is key that the suitability to be sorted and reused is already taken into account in the design of packaging and the choice of materials. Already in the design phase plastics should be selected which are easy to recycle. That is exactly what we are talking about with the parties I mentioned earlier. For example, from a recycling perspective it is better to avoid multi-layer (or multi-material) packaging. Mono packaging is easier to process, which considerably improves the suitability to recycle.”

There’s a lot of complaining that recyclate quality does not allow high-quality reuse. What could be done to improve this?

“Of course we can improve the quality of recyclate by striving for cleaner waste streams, improve washing and optimize processing. But I think it is important to realize that we don’t always have to work towards recyclate that has the quality of new plastic, of virgin material. Recyclate does not have to have the best specifications, it has to have the right specifications. That’s the idea of application driven recycling: obtaining recyclate with the quality that suits the foreseen application. This determines the way of recycling, it determines how clean the waste stream should be and ultimately that determines the sorting requirements. So you have to reason it all back, right down to the first design. All this will allow us to increase the total volume of recycled plastic”.

“I think of an example where the quality of recyclate was found not up to standards because of a somewhat strange smell. There was discussion on how to avoid that. But if the recyclate is used to package a highly perfumed product such as detergent or shampoo, it is in fact a non-issue. If we all accept that not all packaging material is made of similarly shiny, brightly coloured plastic, then there will be many more opportunities for using recyclate. I am quite charmed by the example of a Danish manufacturer of PET trays. He simply uses the recyclate that is available at any given time. One week the trays are pale green, the other week they are pale pink or pale blue. They then ship to England to a lasagna producer, and its consumers say: look, cool, recycled plastic!”

This is the second interview in a series of interviews with parties throughout the plastic value chain, participating in the Circular Plastics Initiative. In the first interview Anton van Beek of DOW Benelux talks about the role of chemical recycling in the war on plastic waste.

Welke kansen zijn er voor de industrie?

Donderdag 15 oktober – 15u00

Investeren in plaats van bezuinigen, zodat Nederland stappen kan maken op weg naar 2030. Dat is de insteek van het Nationaal Groeifonds, ook wel het ‘Wopke-Wiebes-fonds’ genoemd. Inzet: maar liefst 20 miljard euro. Wie pakt de bal op waar het gaat om innovatie in de industrie? Welke initiatieven lopen er al en hoe nu verder? Praat hierover mee op donderdag 15 oktober.

Investeren in plaats van bezuinigen, zodat Nederland stappen kan maken op weg naar 2030. Dat is de insteek van het Nationaal Groeifonds, ook wel het ‘Wopke-Wiebes-fonds’ genoemd. Inzet: maar liefst 20 miljard euro. Wie pakt de bal op waar het gaat om innovatie in de industrie? Welke initiatieven lopen er al en hoe nu verder?

Moderator

Frans Nauta

Panelleden

Frans Nauta is de founder van ClimateLaunchpad, ‘s werelds grootste competitie voor business ideeën die klimaatverandering gaan oplossen. Daarnaast werkt hij als visiting scholar aan de Haas School of Business UC Berkeley in Californië en hij is verbonden als fellow aan het Copernicus Instituut van de Universiteit Utrecht

Gertjan Lankhorst

Voorzitter, VEMW

Paulien Herder

Professor Energy Systems Engineering, TU Delft

Tjeerd Jongsma

Directeur, ISPT

European Research and Innovation Days is the European Commission’s annual flagship Research and Innovation event to debate and shape the future of research and innovation in Europe and beyond.

Plastic is een geweldig materiaal: het is licht, multifunctioneel en goedkoop. Tegelijk vormt plastic afval een van de grote uitdagingen van onze tijd. Daarom gingen we zaterdag, tijdens World Cleanup Day, opnieuw met zijn allen de straat op en natuur in om het afval op te rapen. Het is vechten tegen de bierkaai: al sinds de jaren ‘70 ruimen we op en toch blijft de vervuiling opstapelen. Het is tijd om af te stappen van het beeld van plastics als wegwerpartikel. Beter kunnen we het omarmen als een waardevol materiaal. Een materiaal dat we inzetten vanwege de intrinsieke kwaliteiten, in een volledig circulair systeem. En nee, dat is geen droombeeld, benadrukken de oprichters van het Circular Plastics Initiative.

Na de steen-, brons- en ijzertijd zijn we nu in het plastic tijdperk beland. Kunststoffen zijn licht en goedkoop, waterdicht, gaan lang mee, ze zijn in allerlei vormen te gieten en houden voedsel vers. Niet raar dus dat het materiaal zoveel gebruikt wordt. Helaas worden veel plastic verpakkingen maar één keer gebruikt en eindigen ze uiteindelijk in de vuilbak, of erger, als plastic soep in de oceaan.

Plastic waste

Naar verantwoord gebruik van kunststoffen

Wereldwijd is het besef doorgedrongen dat deze situatie onhoudbaar is. Zo ruimen op World Cleanup Day, dit jaar op 19 september, ongeveer 25 miljoen vrijwilligers wereldwijd zwerfafval op. “Maar dit zet weinig zoden aan de dijk.”, zo zegt Tjeerd Jongsma, directeur van het Institute for Sustainable Process Technology: “Organisaties als World Cleanup Day, Plastic Whale, Plastic Soup Foundation, … Het zijn mooie initiatieven, die het bewuste gebruik van plastic stimuleren, maar ze dweilen met de kraan open. We moeten naar een gesloten, circulair systeem. Het is tijd voor een verantwoord gebruik van kunststoffen. In plaats van ‘plastic maken, gebruiken en weggooien’ moeten we naar ‘maken, gebruiken en hergebruiken of recyclen’. Bedrijven en overheden dienen hun verantwoordelijkheid te nemen. En hoe we denken over plastics, ook dat moet veranderen.”

De ‘war on plastic waste’

Ernst Jan van Klinken, algemeen directeur van DPI – The Polymer Research Platform, vult aan: “In tegenstelling tot wat men vaak gelooft, zijn plastic verpakkingen vaak de minst vervuilende oplossing wanneer je het vergelijkt met alternatieve materialen. Dat zit zo: plastic is vaak lichter, er is minder materiaal nodig om hetzelfde resultaat te bereiken en het gaat vaak langer mee. De ‘war on plastic’ is dan ook volledig onterecht. Daar moet een woordje bij: ‘war on plastic waste’.

De ‘war on plastic’ is dan ook volledig onterecht. Daar moet een woordje bij: ‘war on plastic waste’

De verantwoordelijkheid daarvoor ligt niet bij de consument. Natuurlijk moeten we met zijn allen zorgvuldig ons afval opruimen en scheiden. Maar als maatschappij maken we ook te graag gebruik van het gemak dat plastics ons bieden. Geef nu toe: waarom zou je bijvoorbeeld water in wegwerp verpakkingen willen stoppen? Gebruik plastic liever waar het de meest nuttige oplossing is. Zoals de gewichtsbesparing bij de productie van auto’s, waardoor ze minder brandstof verbruiken en minder schadelijke stoffen uitstoten.”

Gerecycled plastic niet te duur

“Nog zo’n veel gehoord argument waarom 100% gerecycled plastic geen haalbare kaart zou zijn, is dat het te duur is”, zegt Jongsma. “‘Virgin’ plastic – plastic geproduceerd uit fossiele grondstoffen – geniet de voorkeur bij bedrijven: het is makkelijker, goedkoper en altijd van dezelfde kwaliteit. Maar 60% van de CO2-uitstoot van plastic zit ‘m juist in het delven en verwerken van die fossiele grondstoffen. En ja, de meerkosten van gerecycled materiaal worden doorberekend bij de consument, maar uiteindelijk is kaas in gerecycled plastic verpakt maar een paar cent duurder dan in nieuw plastic.”

Innovaties die elkaar versterken

Met behulp van wetgeving en bedrijven die verantwoordelijkheid nemen, wordt het vraagstuk van onvoldoende vraag naar gerecyclede plastics opgelost. Afvalverwerkers worden dan gemotiveerd om hun plastics te scheiden en te recyclen, maar er is meer nodig volgens Van Klinken: “Op dit moment zijn lang niet alle plastic verpakkingen te recyclen, bijvoorbeeld omdat ze gemaakt zijn van verschillende materialen die niet gescheiden kunnen worden. We moeten dan ook kijken naar elke stap in het proces: van productie van de grondstof, over design van de verpakkingen, het inzamel- en sorteerproces en recyclingtechnieken. We kunnen verpakkingen zo ontwerpen dat ze makkelijker gesorteerd kunnen worden per soort plastic. Per soort kunnen we dan de recycling methoden optimaliseren, zodat we uit oud plastic nieuwe grondstoffen creëren die evenveel kwaliteit bieden als nieuw plastic.

Je zal het zien, vanaf 2025 komt er een grote omslag naar gerecyclede plastics!

De partners van het Circular Plastics Initiative geloven dat we een gedeelde verantwoordelijkheid hebben om tot een CO2-vrij, circulair plastic systeem te komen. Door de verbinding op te zoeken tussen al die verschillende partijen die plastic maken, gebruiken of recyclen, komen we tot innovaties die op elkaar aansluiten en elkaar versterken. In een eerste project onderzoeken we hoe we een belangrijk deel van het afvalplastic wat nu wordt verbrand, kunnen recyclen. Daarnaast gaan we kijken hoe we de kwaliteit van gerecycled plastic nog verder kunnen verbeteren, door innovaties in zowel mechanische als chemische recycling.” Jongsma valt enthousiast in: “Je zal het zien, vanaf 2025 komt er een grote omslag naar gerecyclede plastics!”

Het Circular Plastics Initiative is een samenwerkingsverband van partijen in het gehele plastic systeem: producenten, producteigenaren, onderzoeksinstellingen en afvalverwerkers. Zij geloven dat ze een gedeelde verantwoordelijkheid hebben om tot een CO2-vrij, circulair plastic systeem te komen. Om dat te bereiken zoeken ze bewust verbinding met elkaar en zetten ze gezamenlijk kennis en middelen in voor technologische en economische innovatie. 

Het is opgericht door twee stichtingen zonder winstoogmerk: het Institute for Sustainable Process Technology (ISPT), wat bedrijfsleven, overheden en wetenschap verbindt om een circulaire procesindustrie te realiseren, en DPI – The Polymer Research Platform, wat bedrijven verbindt in precompetitief onderzoek naar polymeren, de wetenschappelijke naam voor plastics.  

How do alternative materials perform compared to plastic when it comes to their carbon footprint? This was the central question in the research of Imperial College London and Veolia.

In the United Kingdom, much like in the Netherlands, the majority of people assume that alternative packaging materials would do better than plastic when looking at its contribution to global greenhouse gasses emissions that results from production, use and post-use treatment. However, plastic turns out to be the least impactful of all.

Imperial College London - The footprint of fossil-based plastics

The researchers came to this conclusion after reviewing a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) for 500 ml containers made from different materials: plastic, steel, fibre, aluminium and glass. They advocate the reduction of plastic production, using plastic when it is the most carbon efficient option and strive for circularity through recycling.

Read the full report here.

This project aims to analyse the technological hurdles for and provide background on the technical readiness of innovative technologies for mechanical and chemical recycling of plastics.

Incentive

Plastics are present in many aspects of our daily lives, finding use in diverse products including computers, sports equipment, automotive parts, medical equipment, toys, and food packaging. The rapid adoption of plastics over the years stems from overall benefits versus other materials, in particular their reliability, ease of manufacturing, light weight and affordability.

Nonetheless one cannot disregard the negative impacts plastic litter has on our environment. Though this is also part of a larger issue related to global waste management infrastructure this concern needs to be answered not only by efficient management at the end of their service life, but also by a change in perception: plastics are far too valuable to be treated as waste.

Once they have served their purpose, used plastic should be part of a circular value chain, upcycling them or as feedstock in the chemical industry.

Of the plastics currently produced in the Netherlands and used for packaging, only 35% are mechanically recycled, whereas 65% are incinerated.

Of the plastics currently produced in the Netherlands and used for packaging, only 35% are mechanically recycled, whereas 65% are incinerated with an associated CO2-emission of 18 million tons (based on “levenscyclus van plastics in Nederland, 2018” of Plastics Europe).

The percentage of mechanically recycled plastic packaging can be increased by, amongst others, improved sorting technologies. Chemical recycling technologies such as gasification and pyrolysis can further break down plastic waste to the molecular level and can accommodate mixed and contaminated plastic waste. Both chemical recycling and mechanical recycling can have GHG emission advantages over incineration.

In order to achieve optimum utilization of waste plastic, both mechanical and chemical recycling needs to be applied. However, further technological development is required to make this economically feasible more broadly. Thus plastic waste can be the feedstock for circularity, and the quality of the feedstock as well as of recycled products – crucial for market acceptance and economical as well as ecological success – can be guaranteed.

Plastic waste can be the feedstock for circularity

Objective

There are plenty of technologies proposed and implemented to move forward the mechanical and chemical recycling of plastics. However, large scale implementation is still challenging.

In this project, we analyse the technological hurdles for and provide background on the technical readiness of these technologies. Our focus is on emerging plastic sorting technologies and the chemical recycling of mixed (mainly polyolefin containing) plastic waste by pyrolysis and gasification in the context of a circular value chain. Thus we create better understanding of those technologies and generate insights that help close the complex loop for polyolefin-based plastic recycling.

Fast and efficient sorting has been identified as a critical success factor to increase the recycle ratio of plastics.

Activities

Sorting tests: waste stream composition and most suitable recycling technologies.

We collect post-consumer plastic waste in five different regions in Europe. These sorted streams are analyzed in detail on chemical and physical aspects such as waste stream composition (type of polymers, additives, contaminants, among others) as well as recycling technologies most suitable for these waste streams.

Mechanical recycling is often more cost-efficient and should initially be able to generate the most value. However, successive mechanical recycling degrades the material and eventually all materials become potential feed for chemical recycling. Therefore it is important to assess what fractions of the aforementioned streams are to be used for chemical recycling (with a focus on pyrolysis and gasification). Waste collection system differences will be outside the scope of this study.

Evaluation of new analyzing techniques

Fast and efficient sorting has been identified as a critical success factor to increase the recycle ratio of plastics. This is why we evaluate new analyzing techniques such as Raman spectroscopy, hyperspectral imaging and data analysis.

Design for recycling in relation to emerging sorting techniques
We develop scenarios to determine what the influence will be of improvements made to the plastics (through design for recycling) and emerging sorting techniques, to be used by 2025 and beyond.

Analysis of chemical recycling: focus on quality

Using our sorted and analyzed streams, we analyze chemical recycling (in particular pyrolysis and gasification) in more detail and as a part of a circular value chain. By using these technologies, plastic waste is reduced to building blocks, which can then be re-used to make plastics. We look into the relation between the quality of the plastic waste feed, the process, the different processing factors involved, and the quality of the chemical recycling product.

Plastics are present in many aspects of our daily lives.

Results

This project will result in:

• insights about the role of new and improved sorting techniques of plastic waste streams

• insights into criteria determining plastic waste stream suitability as feed for gasification or pyrolysis processes

• knowledge on how pyrolysis and gasification as chemical recycling techniques of polyolefins-based packaging/ mixed plastic waste can contribute to make full plastic recycling feasible.

• perspectives of future roles in a circular value chain for all value chain partners

These results are a relevant addition in the creation of a value chain to address and solve the issue of polyolefin-based plastic waste to be discarded and to be left unused or under-used (via incineration). In addition, this helps to establish a circular society in relation to polyolefin-based plastics.

Is de producent verantwoordelijk voor het recyclen van plastic verpakkingen? 

Donderdag 17 september – 15u00

Een volledig circulaire waardeketen in plastics: volgens sommigen is het een droombeeld, volgens de organisaties die deelnemen in het Circular Plastics Initiative van ISPT en DPI niet alleen een haalbare kaart, maar ook het enige te bewandelen pad. Het Circular Plastics Initiative pleit voor een herwaardering van plastics als waardevolle grondstof. In aanloop naar de Circular Plastics Conference die we in 2021 organiseren, gaan we tijdens deze Industrie in Gesprek op zoek naar oplossingen om te komen tot volledige circulariteit.

Producentenverantwoordelijkheid, of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), is een beleidsstrategie waarbij de producteigenaar verantwoordelijk blijft voor zijn product tot en met de fase van sloop en afval of recycling en hergebruik. Met vertegenwoordigers van het Ministerie Infrastructuur en Waterstaat, producteigenaren en afvalverwerkers gaan we in op de haken en ogen van een dergelijk beleid. Dit doen we aan de hand van concrete cases en oplossingsgerichte stellingen.

Met moderator Hans Wiltink, die geen steen onomgekeerd laat, gaan we opnieuw een boeiende sessie tegemoet! Deel jouw mening en inzichten via de polls en de chat. Inschrijven kan hier.

Moderator

Hans Wiltink

Events - Moderator - Hans Wiltink

Hans is iemand die moeilijk te vatten valt in één paragraaf. Een snelle denker met een technische en bedrijfskundige achtergrond al decennia actief met de vraag hoe de relatie tussen economie en ecologie te versterken. Gepassioneerd en verbindend. Tegelijk ook erg praktisch. Als partner bij De Gemeynt is hij betrokken bij een veelheid aan duurzame initiatieven, waaronder het Springtij forum. Eén ding is zeker: met Hans gaan we vooruit en snel ook. Houd jij het tempo bij?

Panelleden

Robert Corijn

Attero

Manager marketing & woordvoerder

ISPT Team - Ronald Korstanje

Ronald Korstanje

ISPT/DPI

Programmamanager

Events - Panel - Tjeerd Meester

Tjeerd Meester

Ministerie van Infrastructuur & Waterstaat

Beleidsmedewerker

Events - Panel - Thor Tummers

Thor Tummers

Unilever

Issues & External Affairs

From September 24th till 26th the Springtij Forum takes place. The forum is an influential meeting place for everyone committed to a sustainable future in the Netherlands.

The first National Climate Day will take place on October 12, 2020. This will be the annual event of the Climate Agreement and for everyone involved in climate policy. Climate Day is also the kick-off of the National Climate Weeks, which are held from October 12 to November 6.

Read more here.

In today’s world, plastic has become indispensable. The material plays an important role in almost all aspects of modern society. As a detrimental side effect, plastic waste can be found all over the world. ISPT and DPI recently took the initiative for the Circular Plastics Initiative, in which parties along the entire chain work together to create a more sustainable, circular life cycle of plastics. Among them is polymer producer Dow Benelux under the leadership of president Anton van Beek. We asked him about his vision on circularity in plastics, and Dow’s role in this.  

The Circular Plastics Initiative is a broad-based international cooperation in which a variety of parties work closely together. It includes plastic producers such as Dow, plastic users such as LEGO, waste processing companies, governments and NGOs. That’s why we first ask the question:  

Ultimately, who is responsible for the problem of plastic waste? 

Van Beek: “I am, you are, we are all responsible! Together we have created this waste culture that has to come to an end. That is why society is moving towards a circular economy in which waste – and in our case that’s plastic waste – becomes a resource again. As a plastics producer we are working hard on this. But in the end, we have to do it together. The same goes for plastic as for the beverage can, the cigarette butt, you name it. It’s all waste that should not be found in the streets, nor in nature; it has to end up in the waste bin. The challenge for society as a whole is to change that. We all have to separate our waste and make sure it gets back to the producer.” 

Shouldn’t society be looking for alternatives to plastic? 

“Of course, it can make sense to develop alternatives. But as one of the largest plastic producers in the world, we are convinced that in many cases plastic is the right product. It is light, functional, and relatively inexpensive. Look at food packaging, which for us is a very important market. There, it’s all about food safety and health. Consumers want to be able to buy their fruits, vegetables and meat as fresh as possible, and plastic protects very well against ageing and decay. Some other materials can also offer such functionality, but the environmental impact of plastic is usually smaller because you only need very little material that is also made with an extremely efficient production process. Plastic often has the lowest energy per functional unit – and therefore the lowest carbon footprint for the same functionality. That matters throughout the entire logistics chain”. 

Plastic often has the lowest energy per functional unit – and therefore the lowest carbon footprint for the same functionality.

How does Dow contribute to solving the problem of plastic waste? 

“We are working on all fronts to achieve circularity in plastics. It is now the central concept of our product development. In addition, we participate in the sector-wide Alliance to End Plastic Waste. Over the next five years, 1.5 billion dollars will be available and Dow will make a substantial contribution. We are doing our best to raise public awareness and promote reuse and recycling. But the goal is also to develop solutions for the separation, processing and actual reuse of plastic waste. This dovetails with the Circular Plastics Initiative in which all relevant players in the value chain are at the table. Including NGOs, which are of course very important in this matter. This setting is very valuable to Dow; for us it is difficult to organize this otherwise”. 

The Alliance to End Plastic Waste
Anton van Beek

So what’s the biggest challenge for Dow? 

“What matters is that we, as producers, consider the full life cycle of our plastic. At Dow, we are already used to considering our customers’ wishes and requirements – and even further down the chain, the wishes of the customers of our customers. Now that we also have the waste phase in sight, we develop plastics that a priori lend themselves to reuse. In this ‘design for recycling’, we have already made significant steps forward. One example is our AGILITY low density polyethylene (LDPE) products which can contain up to 70% recycled material”. 

Circular Plastics - Agility CE resins - Picture DOW Benelux
AGILITY CE Resins

“This example refers to mechanical recycling where plastic is separated from the waste stream, crushed and reprocessed into a plastic product. With several high-grade plastics, such as those for food packaging, this approach does not work. On the one hand specific functionalities, such as protection against oxygen, are lost in the process. On the other hand it is difficult to get rid of contaminants related to the collection and sorting process in such a way that the quality requirements for food safety are met. The solution here lies in chemical recycling, which we also call feedstock recycling. Realizing this is now considered the most important challenge”. 

“In feedstock recycling, we break down the plastics on a molecular level, down to its molecular building blocks. From those we can then make polymers again. This results in new plastics that, although recycled, are indistinguishable from the brand-new material that we call virgin plastic”. 

What exactly is the challenge of chemical recycling?  

“The technology is available; polymers can be broken down by gasification or pyrolysis. We perform research on gasification ourselves and we cooperate with others in the field of pyrolysis. Briefly put, pyrolysis is oxygen-free combustion that produces an oily liquid from which we can make plastic – just like from petroleum”.  

The technology is available… The main concern is to improve process efficiency so that also from an economic perspective feedstock recycling will be a really promising technology.

“The main concern is to improve process efficiency so that also from an economic perspective feedstock recycling will be a really promising technology. So our goal now is to develop the most efficient feedstock recycling process available. Together with ISPT, DPI and other parties, we hope to be able to set a standard that will enable us to be a global leader”.  

What do you think are the chances that this will work out? 

“I am quite confident. The conditions are relatively favourable – I think here in our part of the world we will be the first to make the transition to the circular economy. We have the money and national and European governments want to lead the way. However, if we as a small country with limited resources want to play a relevant role here, we have to join forces. The Circular Plastics Initiative does that very well and, as far as I am concerned, deserves the opportunity to tackle this on a large scale. ISPT and DPI are able to stay close to the industry with an organizational model that makes it possible to work quickly, concretely and result-oriented. That is what we need to be able to solve this problem!”. 

This is the first interview in a series of interviews with parties throughout the plastic value chain, participating in the Circular Plastics Initiative. In the second interview Martine Brandsma, director of NTCP, talks about application-driven recycling of plastics.

Want to know what’s really going on with the new European plastics policy and get the latest news on developments? Join the nova Session.

What is the use of an EED energy audit, what are the alternatives and how can you tackle the EED obligations? Join the webinar (in Dutch) to learn more.