Closing the circle on plastic waste
The problem of plastic waste and its impact on the environment needs to be urgently addressed. EU-funded research is looking at ways of creating a more sustainable plastic packaging life cycle to reduce the impact of plastic waste.
© Saponia, 2017
Plastic packaging accounts for approximately 40 % of the overall demand for plastic in Europe. Although work is being done to recover and recycle plastic waste, the EU still produces 25 million tonnes of it each year, of which only 30 % is recycled, 39 % is incinerated and 31 % ends up in landfill.
Partners in the EU-funded CIRC-PACK project have set themselves the task of creating a more sustainable plastic packaging value chain by working on several fronts to develop new and more sustainable products, processes and business models.
CIRC-PACK brings together partners from every step of the plastic packaging cycle, says project manager Montserrat Lanero of Fundación CIRCE: Centro de Investigación de Recursos y Consumos Energeticos in Spain. Our aim is to create new relationships between the different partners that lead to improvements in the whole system and lay the foundations of a new bio-based value chain.
New materials and better recyclability
The project is exploring and developing new feedstocks not based on fossil fuels but on cleaner, more eco-friendly alternatives. This will enable the production of new-generation bio-based plastic packaging made entirely of raw materials from renewable sources and recycled waste, such as trays, bottles, coffee capsules, jars, car parts and pallets. These materials will also be biodegradable and compostable.
Furthermore, partners are working to reduce as much as possible the waste generated at every step of the value chain, transforming it into new resources that could be reintroduced into the cycle in line with the principles of a circular economy.
CIRC-PACKs goals improving recyclability, enhancing biodegradability and supporting the production of new bio-based and compostable plastics are focused on improving after-use plastic economy through a multi-sectorial approach, in three main sectors: the automotive, production and recycling of absorbent hygiene products, and packaging film.
In addition, actions will improve existing sorting and recycling processes through an online monitoring system, developed during the CIRC-PACK project. This will improve the recovery rates and quality reliability of the recycled materials in line with the requirements of the potential end-users.
In the automobile sector, the project is working closely with manufacturers to improve the recycling rate of plastic-based components of vehicles and improve processes to recover and reuse them.
The team is also working with producers to valorise the cellulose waste from the recycling of absorbent hygiene products, thereby creating bio-based and biodegradable polymers from something that until now has been considered to be purely waste. New eco-design of packaging is also being implemented to reduce the end-of-life impact of multi-material and multilayer packaging, and to facilitate the separation of materials for recycling.
In addition, the process of collecting, classifying and recovering plastic waste will be re-evaluated according to the new design to boost efficiency and increase the proportion of waste that is recycled. CIRC-PACK will analyse existing legal constraints, bottlenecks and other non-technological barriers that are hindering the optimisation of this value chain.
We expect CIRC-PACK to create new business opportunities, for large companies and SMEs, both within the project and more widely. We want to change the perspective from considering the product on its own to conceiving it as part of the production, consumption, disposal system, says Lanero.
The overall objective is to promote transition to a circular economy one that contributes to the EUs waste management and recycling targets by 2030.