Plastic sorting technology based on chemical markers

Invited by Petcore Europe and the European Federation of Bottled Waters (EFBW) to a Workshop held in Brussels on 15 March, more than 80 experts from the PET value chain, brand owners and researchers gained an insight into Polymark, a European project that has developed a new technology enabling the identification and sorting of polymers, focusing on PET as a start, in the high-value plastics waste stream.
We believe that sensor-based sorting technologies hold a key to enabling circular economy for plastics, providing high-grade sorting and boosting recycling quality and yield. Aside from the technical progress made during the Polymark project, we have seen how the entire value chain has embraced marker-based sorting as a crucial next step in improving plastics recycling“, explained consortium partner An Vossen from EPRO in the introduction video of the Polymark project.

Peter Reinig, Group Leader Photonic Sensing from the Fraunhofer IPMS, presented the work undertaken by former HERI on the development of the chemical marker. Within Polymark a chemical food contact approved marker was identified which is used for coating on a bottle or on a label. After identification and sorting, this coated marker can be subsequently removed by existing recycling plant washing.
The focus of the second technical presentation, also presented by Reinig, was on the development of a spectral identification technology that detects the marker and decodes the information in order to separate the post-consumer plastic packaging. This Polymark detection principle for sorting is based on UV-excitation and VIS-fluorescence. It is capable of sorting food-grade PET bottles at 3 m/s conveyor belt speed with spatial resolution of 10 mm.

image
Finally, Hans Eder, Head of R&D at Sesotec, explained the development and functionality of the Polymark industrial scale sorting system. Its marker detection setup is built from two basic units: a high energy UV light unit for excitation of the marker and a highly sensitive camera to detect the weak fluorescence signals emitted from the marker. This Polymark sorting machine is able to achieve an output purity of 98% on the major input fraction.
After the presentations, participants – physically present in the workshop or having joined via webinar – raised a number of questions and comments. Regarding the question if this project will be further developed commercially and also potentially translate into EU policy, Casper van den Dungen, Vice-President of the Plastics Recyclers Europe (PRE), stated that the Polymark project is providing a first platform for the industry to communicate on tracer technologies. The recyclers are now encouraging Europe to harmonise and standardise the use of such innovative sorting solutions. It is important to keep in mind that there are still a number of barriers, and further discussions are needed amongst all interested stakeholders. “However, Polymark marks a starting point and gives a certainty that such innovation is possible”, he concluded.
All training presentations as well as further information are publically available on the Polymark website www.polymark.org.

More plastics recycling in Europe

EU 28+2 recycled 6.3m tonnes, 39.5%, of its 15.9m tonnes plastic packaging waste in 2014, easily surpassing the EU’s minimum target of 22.5%. According to EPRO, the end destinations were as follows:

Recycling:                39,5%
Energy recovery:    38,5%
Landfill:                    22,0%

The recycling rate for plastic packaging rose from 34.7% in 2012 to 39.5% in 2014.
Except for Malta, all the EU 28+ 2 countries in 2014 exceeded the EU minimum targets of 22.5% recycling. 24 countries (19 in 2012) recycled more than 30%, 12 countries even surpassed 40%. In 2014, Czech Republic ranked on the top with a recycling rate of 52.1% followed by Germany, Slovenia, Sweden and Ireland.

64% of the post-consumer plastic packaging waste is generated from households, the remaining 36%, comes from the trade/ industry segment. The recycling rate for trade and industry sector reached 42.8% (37.6% in 2012), while recycling for the households segment obtained 37.7% (33%).

The following EPRO countries include all kinds of plastic packaging in their collection schemes for households: Germany, Finland, Iceland, Italy, Norway, Portugal, Spain and Sweden, either in a separate plastics fraction or together with other lightweight packaging (yellow bin). In other countries like Austria and UK, some parts of the country collect all plastic packaging while other regions concentrate on just rigid plastic packaging. Germany, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden have in addition a deposit system for most of the beverage bottles. In Belgium, France and Switzerland, the EPR- systems focus on rigid plastics (bottles), but France is about to expand, step by step, the scope of the system to comprise all plastic packaging. How to sort, recycle and recover mixed streams of plastic packaging is a key topic for EPRO working groups. In addition, design for recycling is also a key issue for EPRO.

Energy recovery hit 38.5% in 2014 (34.5% in 2012). In total 78.0% (72.5%) of all plastic packaging waste was recovered in 2014, the balance going to landfills and incineration without energy recovery; 3.5m tonnes of plastic packaging ended in landfills last year. 

image_thumb[5]

There are still big differences on energy recovery results within Europe. Ten countries energy recovered more than 50% of their plastic packaging waste in 2014 and obtained all a total recovery rate (recycling + energy recovery) above 90%. This means that less than 10% was landfilled in these countries.  At the other end of the ranking list, we find a couple of countries that still does not energy recover any plastic waste. Ten countries landfilled more than 40% of their plastic packaging waste, among them Spain with 41%.

The recycling result for packaging of 39.5% is better than for other plastic applications. The overall recycling rate for plastics reached 29.7% in 2014. While 40% of all plastic products put on the market are packaging, packaging contributes by 62% to all plastic waste generated and as much as 81% to all plastics recycled. 7.7m tonnes of plastic waste were recycled in 2014, of which 6.3m tonnes packaging. Packaging thus lift the average recycling rates for all plastics in Europe, EPRO says.  

In 2014, the agriculture sector generated 1.4m tonnes of post-consumer non-packaging plastic waste. This equals 5% of all plastic waste generated within EU28+2. In 2014, 28.0% (26.4%) of this was recycled, while 31.1% (28.4 %) was energy recovered. The rest, 40.9% (45.2%) went to landfill.

EPRO creates Best Recycled Awards

image_thumb[1]The European Association of Plastics Recycling & Recovery Organisations (EPRO) is inviting companies across Europe to enter their products and designs for products made from recycled plastics to enter for European recognition.  The EPRO Best Recycled Plastic Product and Best Recycled Plastic Product Design is now open for entries at  http://bestproduct.epro-plasticsrecycling.org.  The aim of this competition is to raise awareness and showcase the latest product innovations for recycled plastics in a growing variety of products.  
Entries to the competition close on 10th October 2016 and there is no cost to enter.  Winners from the short-listed entries will be chosen at Identiplast 2017, due to take place in Austria 22nd and 23rd February 2017.  
Peter Sundt, Secretary General of EPRO said, “It is important that consumers and industry see the development in the recycling of plastics.   We see this award as being a vehicle to showcase the innovation within plastics recycling and the many products that are currently being manufactured across Europe”.

Plastics – Trends and Perspectives

imageSince 1952, the K trade fair in Düsseldorf has been presenting tangible evidence of the plastics and rubber industry’s global success. The twentieth edition of the K trade fair in 2016 is no different: a benchmark and orientation point for the plastics and plastics processing industry.

Between 1950 and 2015, the consumption of plastics and rubber have risen by an average of 8.5 % per annum. Since the beginning of the new millennium, the growth rates have still been rising by between 4 and 5 %. They do, however, vary significantly from region to region, and change with the product and application.

imageThe rising global population and the overall improvement in living standards are the main factors that drive global growth. The effects of increasing prosperity can be seen in many markets for plastics application, spearheaded by packaging for food and convenience goods, but also in the variety of storage and shipping containers. Infrastructure and construction also require the use of plastics in water, electricity and gas supply systems, as well as in insulation, window profiles and many more. Another aspect is increasing mobility – in cars, lorries and airplanes. Medical engineering is one area of application where polymer materials have become indispensable: without safe, disposable and hygienic plastics products, technical dimageevices and systems, diagnostics, laboratory equipment and the safe application of medical drugs would not be able to comply with current quality standards. This also applies to our modern and widely appreciated sports and leisure products. In their markets, these applications, equipped with or entirely made of plastics or rubber, contribute to the global acceptance and proliferation of polymer materials.

In 2015, the association of European plastics producers, PlasticsEurope, reported a global plastics production volume of 322 million tonnes. A proportion of almost 270 million tonnes was attributed to polymer materials, i.e. materials used for the production of plastics applications. The remaining amount, about 50 million tonnes, were used for the production of coatings, adhesives, dispersions, lacquer or paint. Analyses of the same period published by the International Rubber Study Group IRSG show a global rubber production and consumption volume of almost 29 million tonnes, 12 million tonnes of which were attributed to natural rubber and almost 17 million tonnes were synthetic rubber.

Continue reading

Bottles and oceans

Selfridges, the UK department store, has announced it will no longer be selling single-use plastic bottles, as part of a lauched by the image_thumbZoological Society of London (ZSL) and the Marine Reserves Coalition (MRC) and supported by Greenpeace UK. Selfriges said it previously sold around 400 thousand plastic water bottles a year in its stores and restaurants. Instead, Selfridges will provide bottled water in glass and water taps to refill reusable plastics bottles (see image).

The British Plastics Federation (BPF) has criticized this innitiative. Philip Law, the BPF’s Director General, commented: “The availability of water in portable, lightweight bottles promotes good health and can be critical in emergency situations. Plastic products do not litter themselves onto our streets or into our oceans, people do". Law highlighted the recycling results: “During 2014, nearly 60 percent of PET plastic bottles in the household waste stream were collected for recycling”.

To see the Selfridges campaign, click HERE
To read the BPF position, click HERE.

Plastics Recycling Expo (PRE) 2015

Now in its second edition, Plastics Recycling Expo (PRE) will take place from 16 to 17th June in Telford, UK, featuring an exhibition and conference specifically for plastics recycling professionals. image
This two day exhibition and strategic conference will provide an opportunity to network with a broad cross section of the industry and to meet decision makers from the public and private sector. The event will unite specialists from design/manufacturing, brand owners from the packaging, automotive, medical and consumer goods sectors and those already involved in plastics recycling (waste management companies, local authorities, government and plastic collection, recycling and reuse companies) to conduct business and discuss the future of plastics recycling. For more information about PRE, just click HERE.

Platform to improve the PET thermoforms recycling

Petcore Europe convened a workshop on March, in Brussels, on the Recycling of Rigid PET Thermoforms in Brussels involving fifty leaders and experts from the whole PET value chain in Europe. Petcore Europe believes that this workshop marks the beginning of a technical platform that will be set up involving the most important players of the industry to work on improving yet further the recycling of PET.

 image“The recycling of PET is a success story,” explained one of the organisers, Wim Hoenderdaal from Indorama. ”It is the only example on large scale where the circle is closed at the highest level and where new high quality packaging can be made out of recycled resin.”
Recycled PET is used to make new bottles and thermoforms. This is especially true for PET thermoforms (mainly trays) which are produced with a content of r-PET (recycled PET) often above 70% fully complying with food contact regulations. 

The one-day workshop was structured in three parts: Collection and Sorting including the current state in different countries like Germany, Belgium, UK and France, Packaging Technologies as well as Recycling Technologies. Each session was followed by a lively panel debate where participants discussed and shared knowledge.

“PET is the only value chain that takes care of the complete life-cycle of its products, including thermoforms,” outlined Patrick Peuch, Executive Director of Petcore Europe. “Therefore, the goal of this workshop was to build and promote a working group to specifically update the state-of-the-art in PET thermoforms life-cycle, including design-for-recycling, packaging technologies, collection, sorting and recycling technologies.”