We are living in a ‘plastic age’ where society thrives thanks to developments in polymer science and technology. At the downside, plastic litter can be found all around the globe. This calls for concerted action to tackle plastic waste and ensure its recycling.
The mission of the cluster Circular Plastics of the Institute for Sustainable Process Technology is to boost polymer recycling by clarifying the material and process aspects of mechanical and chemical recycling.
With our efforts, we contribute to a better understanding of the scientific and technological hurdles needed for proper recycling and potential re-use of plastics, in particular those used in packaging. The resulting knowledge base will be instrumental for realising the breakthroughs needed for achieving full circularity.
Mixed Plastic Waste
Recycling plastics for circularity implies rejuvenating the plastic and obtaining fully performant virgin material. In mechanical recycling (sorting, washing and shredding) the polymer is retained and regranulated, with optional removal of colourants, fillers, plasticizers and other additives. In chemical recycling, the polymer is broken down into its monomers (or beyond) and resynthesized in a chemical ‘bottom-up’ fashion.
In the projects of the cluster Circular Plastics, the focus now is on the post-consumer Mixed Plastic Waste (MPW) which is the larger fraction of the plastic waste problem and which in its turn is dominated by single-use packaging plastics. It is rich in polyolefins (PE, PP) but also contains other polymers such as PET, PS, minor amounts of other plastics, and non-plastic materials (e.g. paper, textile and inorganics). Because of the heterogeneity and contamination of MPW, fully mechanical recycling is impossible and chemical recycling is very challenging. A better understanding of chemical recycling (both in materials and process aspects) is imperative for achieving meaningful progress in closing the recycling circle.
As polyolefines (PE, PP) constitute the lion’s share of the MPW stream, these will be the primary target of the ‘chemcycling’ efforts of the cluster Circular Plastics. The shear MPW volume implies that closing the loop requires technology that can be operated at a very large scale. Pyrolysis is one of the technology options here, with solvolysis as a possible alternative. The ultimate aim is to provide a feed for the steam crackers in existing plastic production plants.
The Circular Plastics projects will focus on
- Analysis of the composition of the mixed plastic waste stream and of contaminants therein;
- Evaluation of sorting and washing technology;
- Improving technology for chemical processing (pyrolysis & cracking) in terms of quality and scalability (beyond 100 kt/a);
- Evaluation of the opportunities and pitfalls in using the pyrolysis oil as feed for plastic production;
- Developing technology (e.g. separation and hydrotreating technology) for bringing the pyrolysis oil up to specs for plastics production.
Projects across the value chain
In all efforts of the cluster Circular Plastics, the approach is to establish projects across the whole value chain and bring together all relevant parties, in particular brand owners, waste management and recycling companies, and the chemical industry. The cluster also highly values input from NGO’s concerned about plastic waste issues.
An important issue will be packaging redesign: exploring the opportunities and restrictions in optimizing plastic packaging for cost-effective mechanical as well as chemical recycling, while retaining optimal packaging performance and customer experience.
Projects are planned and carried out in close cooperation with DPI, the Eindhoven-based industry-driven international collaboration platform for pre-competitive research in the field of polymers.
The cluster Circular Plastics contributes to the ISPT theme Circularity.
Join the cluster
The Circular Plastics cluster is open for more participants. Would you like to join the cluster or need more information, please contact cluster manager Klaartje Rietkerken using the contact form below.