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Everything in place to recycle all kinds of plastic
The Northern Netherlands is a hotbed for innovative plastic recycling. There is a great deal of knowledge of and experience with the recycling of plastics, from depolymerisation to design. We have everything in place to recycle all possible kinds of plastics. This can be done through mechanical, chemical or thermo-chemical recycling.
Mechanical recycling (shredding PET bottles and turning the flakes into granulate) is the easiest way to re-use plastics. But the end product cannot be used in food packaging, unless – as is the case with PET bottles – there is a fully closed system without any contamination. Also, coloured plastics are a problem in mechanical recycling. The pigments stay in the granulate which makes it difficult to use in specific applications.
Chemical recycling, breaking polymers into monomers, is a solution to both problems. In Emmen, the companies Cumapol and Morssinkhof developed the CuRe technology a method of chemical recycling which turns coloured polyester into new polymers. Contaminations and unwanted pigments can be separated from the depolymerized plastics, creating virgin building blocks. This way, polyester carpets can yield new polyester fibres. This type of rPET yarn is now being produced in Emmen by polyester company Cumapol together with recycling company Morssinkhof. They can already produce different types of yarn for different products, from carpet fibres to ropes or ratchet straps.
Other companies, most of them located in Delfzijl, convert polymers into even more basic building blocks.
Both technologies require a relatively clean stream of used plastics. Mixed plastics are usually burned as waste, generating some electricity. But there is also the option of thermo-chemical recycling. In this process, mixed plastics are heated in the presence of a catalyst, which breaks the polymers down to their basic aromatic building blocks of benzene, toluene and xylene (BTX). BioBTX in Groningen has just opened a pilot plant, creating these aromatics from glycerine. The next step is to use solid plastic waste as feedstock in their process, and turn this into BTX. Like Cumapol, they have developed the conversion process themselves.
Other companies, most of them located in Delfzijl, convert polymers into even more basic building blocks. EnerPY produces oil, gas and carbon from organics and plastics, using a microwave based type of pyrolysis. Torrgas turns materials into syngas (a mixture of hydrogen, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide). An advantage of these methods is that they can recycle laminated products with plastic foils and paper.
A largely untapped resource is textile. Companies producing sports shirts are interested in recycling. It is possible to make old polyester shirts into new ones. Getting plastic from household waste is more complicated. The Frysian waste collector Omrin has built a plastic sorting line together with HVC and Midwaste in Heerenveen, where they can separate different types of plastics from household waste. Morssinkhof is adding another recycling line to specifically recycle high-density polyethylene (HDPE) and polypropylene (PP). In Wijster, Drenthe, Attero is also sorting and recycling different plastics form consumer waste. However, much of this recycled plastic is not suited for high-end applications.
National Test Centre Circular Plastics
This is one reason why the packaging industry, the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management and other partners have invested in a national test centre for circular plastics in Heerenveen. Design of products is very important for consumer products. This will allow producers to test whether their plastic packaging or products can be recycled, in batches up to 100 kilograms.
Within the ecosystem, it’s is possible to recycle tens of kilotons of plastic per year. The Northern provinces annually produce some 90 kilotons of plastic waste.
Recycled plastics from Heerenveen and Emmen find their way directly to producers like Philips Drachten, but more often to chemical recycling in Delfzijl for basic building blocks or Emmen where monomers are produced. These materials are then used in regular polymer production. Chemport Europe ecosystem has all that, concentrated in a just a few square kilometres at a limited number of locations.