PEPP 2019: Race to recycle needs combined technology solutions

15:47 PM | June 27, 2019 | Mark Thomas in Berlin


Plastics-recycling technologies must continue to advance rapidly, together with efforts to ensure recycling solutions can be commercially viable within a circular-economy value chain, according to speakers at IHS Markit’s PEPP 2019 event, currently taking place in Berlin, Germany.

Braskem has long been looking at how it can best develop technologies, new business models, and systems that fit into the recycling process, said Marco Jansen, circular-economy leader at Braskem's European subsidiary. “If you look at the extremely ambitious targets that have been set, both by voluntary commitments by different associations and companies, as well as by governments—especially here in Europe—related to recycling targets, we think that just mechanical recycling is not enough,” he said.

Chemical recycling is also not enough on its own “because there are limits and boundaries with how far you can go with chemical recycling,” said Jansen. “It’s probably going to be something that will be fundamental to reach these goals, but it still has a big R&D challenge to get to an efficient way to reach that. We’re trying to partner with different companies to make sure that we find the most effective route to chemical recycling.”

The company has for a long time also been using life-cycle analysis “as a tool to assess which processes and products are most sustainable in terms of economic, social, and environmental impacts, and will continue to do so,” says Jansen.

From the brand owner’s perspective, Danone’s circular-economy manager, Feliks Bezati, said the company faces “a packaging paradox, in that we know we need the packaging, but at the same time we know that plastic packaging in the circular economy has some challenges.”

The main challenge for plastics today is that it is mainly in a linear economy, which is problematic because of the generation of waste, with only 10% recycled at present, he says. “Today we are mainly challenged on plastic waste and not climate change, because plastic waste is a tangible thing. You can see it. This is the linear approach,” said Bezati.

Opposed to this is the circular economy, inspired by nature where waste does not exist, Bezati said. “The waste of the system is the resource of another system,” he said. “It’s about how we can design our products today to be the raw materials of tomorrow, by keeping the value of our materials in the economy and out of nature.”

Danone is also focused on eliminating any packaging that it does not need, and on innovating so that all the packaging it does use is designed to be safely reused, recycled, or composted, he said. Bezati cites the company’s Evian bottled water brand, which has committed to use a recycler as its main plastics supplier by 2025.

Bezati also stressed the importance of being able to improve the ability to recycle flexible polyolefins, which he describes as challenged because there is not currently a market for the recycled material. “We believe it’s important that chemical recycling for flexibles can move forward because it’s not just for the sake of using recycled material, it’s also a way for chemical recycling to create a new market, especially for the flexible polyolefins,” he said.

Plastics waste "is the new feedstock for producing plastics in the future,” according to Günter Stephan, head of mechanical recycling/circular economy solutions at Borealis. The company has two post-consumer polyolefin recycling operations in Europe, having acquired Germany-based mtm Plastics in 2016 and Ecoplast Kunststoffrecycling (Wildon, Austria) last year.

“For a producer with 50 years of heritage of designing and engineering plastics, we know a lot about polymer. But it’s amazing how little we at Borealis knew when it came to recycling. We were capable of building high-pressure plants in the desert, but we did not really understand what it’s like to recycle plastics. So, this was and is still a learning curve,” he said. A combination of mechanical- and chemical-recycling solutions is needed “until chemical recycling is on top of the technology,” Stephan said.

Borealis is also pushing on as planned with its ReOil project in Austria, in partnership with parent company OMV, where it is running a pilot plant to produce synthetic oil out of plastic waste, says Stephan. The synthetic oil is then fed into OMV’s Schwechat, Austria, refinery to produce feedstock for Borealis to make olefins and polyolefins, he said.

Borealis announced earlier this week a partnership with Erema Group (Ansfelden, Austria) to deepen their mechanical-recycling cooperation activities. Borealis's overall aim is to quadruple the company’s recycled plastics volume by 2025, Stephan said.