Recycled bulky urban waste gains new value
An EU-funded project has developed more efficient ways to obtain high-quality, recyclable raw materials from bulky waste. The advances contribute to Europe's efforts to reduce landfilling, recover valuable raw materials for reuse by industry, and protect the environment.
© Jana Schönknecht #31264594, 2019 source: stock.adobe.com
Across the EU, items such as old mattresses, furniture, upholstery, wood, hard plastics and mixed textiles tend not to be recycled due to a lack of eco-innovative, cost-effective solutions. Known as bulky waste because of its large volume or weight more than 60 % of these items end up in landfill sites across Europe.
The EU-funded project URBANREC has found a solution to this problem by developing a management system to separate, disassemble, and reuse or recycle bulky waste materials.
By the end of the project in November 2019, it aims to propose a process which will enable efficient and cost-effective ways to extract raw materials from waste that can be recycled by manufacturers to be resold as new material and/or products. The goal is to help Europe achieve an 82 % recycling target for all European bulky waste, as part of the shift towards a circular, sustainable economy.
URBANREC is also formulating a standardisation strategy on how to prevent, collect, sort, separate, crush and treat material obtained from bulky waste, which will be used to inform EU policymakers.
This is a commercial success story that has the potential to generate a profit of about EUR 225 per tonne of waste, says URBANREC technical coordinator Raquel Giner Borrull from the AIMPLAS Plastics Technology Institute, Spain. We brought together local authorities and large companies which worked to create a new management system for bulky waste. We also hope to have an impact on improving legislation, says Borrull.
URBANREC is rolling out demonstrations in four countries, each representing a different EU region. Northern, Mediterranean, Eastern and South-eastern parts of Europe are represented by Flanders in Belgium, Valencia in Spain, Warsaw in Poland and Izmir in Turkey. Urban waste recycling rates vary from 70 % in Belgium, 25-30 % in Spain, 20 % in Poland, to less than 5 % in Turkey.
Local authorities in these countries helped ensure implementation of the proposed solutions locally. The project began by evaluating bulky waste management in the four regions and developing recycling solutions.
New collection methods for bulky waste and reusable bulky goods are being tested in the Imog region in Flanders (Belgium). A customer portal has been created and a bulky waste app developed to provide prevention and sorting guidelines and information about collection and dismantling services.
People can use these tools to determine the cost of removing bulky waste goods from their homes before requesting assistance. The project is also trialling a service to transport household furniture to a reuse centre or civic amenity site. This is free if more than 80 % of the furniture is reusable.
In Flanders, a network of around 24 charities, social enterprises, second-hand shops and art schools has been incorporated into bulky waste logistics routes in order to reuse as many items as possible. Public events are being held to communicate on issues such as consumer responsibility and cutting the volume of waste at source, and educational programmes are being rolled out through social media.
Putting junk to good use
The second part of the project recycling material extracted from bulky waste is being carried out by URBANREC´s commercial partners and top research institutes. They have been developing new technologies to separate and disassemble waste on an industrial scale. New eco-friendly products are being produced from the material extracted which can then be sold thereby contributing to a more circular economy.
The focus is on finding techniques to separate and recycle four types of material: polyurethane foam, hard plastics and wood, mixed textiles and adhesives. They include re-bonding and chemical reactions, such as catalytic hydrogasification with plasma, for hard-to-recycle plastics to extract chemicals or fuel.
Long and short fibres are isolated from textiles to create durable carpet-like materials known as needlefelts. Mattresses and upholstery are being recycled into new foams and adhesives, and hard plastics and wood into biofuel additives, chemicals and wood-plastic compounds and packaging boxes.
Valorisation involves taking waste material and creating raw material from it so that we give it new value as a product that can enter the commercial space once again, says Borrull. The trend in society is to throw things but instead of doing that we are creating something new from it.