On February 4 and 5, the Plastics Solutions Forum presented by Éco Entreprises Québec (ÉEQ) and Citeo was held in Paris and brought together actors from all segments of the plastics value chain (marketers, manufacturers, recyclers, government authorities, investors) in order to review the current state of plastics recycling and discuss the most promising technologies in the field. For the first time, 13 international companies and start-ups met with producers, investors and recyclers over a two-day period to share about industry-level development opportunities for these new technologies.
A priority for all actors along the value chain
In order to reduce the environmental impact of plastics on the planet, ramping up efforts towards a circular economy has become a world issue where all sectors are concerned. This acceleration process is reflected in regulatory changes, social action, commitments on the part of companies that market plastic packaging, as well as marked interest on the part of investors.
Consequently, with recycling rates of only 26 % for plastic packaging and 57 % for bottles and containers, France has set ambitious targets for itself regarding the circular economy, and a draft law is under consideration. On the other side of the Atlantic, as part of its zero-waste strategy for plastics, Canada is implementing actions to enable provinces, specifically Québec, to pass legislation in this area. The actors along the value chain recognize that they share the same responsibility and are indeed rallying to find solutions that extend beyond any issues.
On February 4 and 5, nearly 300 people took part in the first international Plastics Solutions Forum. In all, the Forum included representation from 20 countries, 13 technologies from three different continents and a meeting spearheaded by two actors of the circular economy, ÉEQ and its French counterpart, Citeo. The event was designed to bring together project owners and decision-makers from the worlds of industry, distribution and finance. A total of 140 meetings were set up over the course of two days, with the goal of ramping up the transition of these innovative technologies to the industrial level and committing to finding solutions.
Promising technologies to significantly boost recycling performance
Pushing further forward on plastics recycling requires developing new technologies. Those generated via plastics research and development, also called “chemical” or “molecular” recycling, as presented during the France-Québec Forum, are a complementary solution to “mechanical” recycling for the various types of plastics targeted (PE, PS, PP), particularly in France, by extending sorting instructions. By reverting to the original molecules, monomers, the resulting recycled matter is purified and its joining via polymerisation allows for the creation of new plastic materials, which presents a double advantage, as the recycled purified matter is both high quality and a recycling solution for complex plastic packaging.
Some of the recycling technologies presented included:
- Depolymerisation, for complex PET packaging (colored or opaque, multilayered trays), consists in breaking polymer bonds to revert to the initial monomer state.
- Dissolution in a specific solvent followed by filtering, targets polyethylene-based (PE) films, polystyrene (PS) or polypropylene (PP) packaging. Potential applications are numerous: tray lids, chocolate bar wrappers, yoghurt containers, meat trays, ice cream, butter or fresh cream containers.
- Thermal techniques (pyrolysis, gasification) are used to turn plastics (PE, PP, PS) into chemical components for plastics processing or into combustible liquid and gas to be used as fuel.
These technologies should generate a true boost in performance and acceleration of the circular economy of plastics. Though some have been experimented with for years, today they are leaving labs and moving into industrialisation. The true issue is to devise the appropriate financial and technical conditions for an industrial solution.
Without industry commitment, there can be no curbside recycling
To develop recycling of all packaging, especially plastic packaging, industries have shared their commitments regarding eco-design, recycling and integration of recycled materials. Implementation of the extended sorting instructions, deployed by Citeo with its communities, will enable all French citizens to sort 100 % of their packaging by 2022. As for ÉEQ, implementation of innovative technologies will eventually enable plastics that used to be difficult to recycle to be included into the Québec charter of recyclable materials (Charte québécoise des matières recyclables). Thus, the creation of an efficient curbside recycling system paired with consistent sorting from consumers will be the key to providing industries with guaranteed sufficient tonnage of recycled matter and speeding up the circular plastics economy.
13 technologies presented by innovative companies
Recycling of PET by depolymerisation
CARBIOS is a French start-up whose team has developed enzymes for the recycling of PET and the adding of enzymes in bio sourced plastics formulating to accelerate their rate of composting in a natural environment.
GARBO is an Italian company whose team has developed a glycolysis process through which a PET monomer can be produced, then used in the manufacturing of PET.
GR3N is an Italian-Swiss start-up company. It offers a depolymerisation process via hydrolysis that sets itself apart by using microwaves.
IFPEN, Institut Français du Pétrole et des Energies Nouvelles, presents a depolymerisation process for the recycling of polyesters and complex PETs that integrates optimized depolymerisation and purification steps.
IONIQA is a spin-off from the Technical University of Eindhoven and Dutch Polymer Institute (Netherlands). The technology it presents enables PET depolymerisation and rests on glycolysis using an ionic liquid as catalyzer.
JEPLAN has explored textile and PET bottle recycling in Southern Japan for several years. In 2017, the company bought out one of Japan’s two PET depolymerisation plants to further its work.
LOOP Industries is a Canadian start-up that offers a polyester and PET depolymerisation process.
PYROWAVE is a Canadian company that developed a plastics depolymerisation technique using microwaves and applied to polystyrene (PS).
Recycling by dissolution
APK is a German start-up that produces high-quality recycled plastic granules from plastic production waste scrap, including multilayered films.
FRAUNHOFER IVV, German institute specialized in research and applied sciences, presents a versatile recycling technology using solvents to recycle various plastic materials.
POLYSTYVERT is a Canadian start-up that developed an innovative process through which all forms of polystyrene (PS) may be recycled in a closed loop.
PURECYCLE TECHNOLOGIES is an American company that presents a recycling solution through which coloring, odor as well as any other impurities and contaminants from polypropylene (PP) plastics waste can be recycled.
RECYCLING TECHNOLOGIES is a U.K. start-up that presents a thermal plastics recycling solution through which plastics are turned into fuel using pyrolysis.
Citeo enables its clients — industrial, commercial, distribution and mass consumer service companies — to better devise and recycle packaging and paper materials. Founded following the merger of Eco-Emballages and Ecofolio, Citeo is certified to manage extended producer responsibility (EPR) for its clients, provides them with eco-design solutions, raises consumer awareness about recycling, finances collecting, sorting and recycling of packaging and paper and invests in R&D towards a circular economy (sales revenue of EUR 744 million in 2017). After 25 years of commitment to its corporate clients, 68 % of packaging and 57.6 % of paper are recycled thanks to consumer sorting, which has now become the foremost social gesture in France. In its endeavour to advance a true resource economy in France, Citeo has set 3 priorities for itself: simplifying sorting to enable all French consumers to sort all their packaging and paper by 2022 ; innovating to invent new materials, recycling technologies, collection solutions and opportunities; reducing the environmental impact of packaging and paper by assisting companies in generalizing eco-design.