ProLiFeX: from plastic waste to component of compost bags
As much as 30 to 40% of household plastic packaging waste consists of film. Recycling plastic film is technically and organizationally very complex. New film packaging is almost always made from virgin plastics (which are new plastics). The recycling challenges are found in various areas. For example, it is difficult to create a constant supply from the waste stream, but also the removal of interfering substances (which are substances that disrupt the recycling process), the prevention of heterogeneity (different types of plastics) and making plastic recycling economically viable are major challenges. To find a solution for these challenges, a collaboration was started between the chain partners. The goal: to be able to successfully reuse plastic waste in the production of end products, for example compost bags.
In early 2019, we joined forces with Attero, TUSTI, TU Eindhoven, Oerlemans Packaging and Pokon Naturado to conduct technological research into a way to optimally recycle plastic film. The goal: to decrease the demand for virgin plastics. The research was shaped into the ProLiFeX project: “Post-consumer Recycling Of L(L)DPE in Flexible EXtrusion”. In simpler terms: recycling of L(L)DPE after consumer use into flexible plastic materials. Each party will contribute the necessary expertise from its own role in the value chain. “A unique collaboration and an important pilot project for shaping the circular economy. There is so much more to recycle than is happening now!” says Jaap den Doelder, Scientist at Dow and Professor at TU Eindhoven.
The 3 goals of the project
- To give direction to the project, three concrete goals were established.
- Development of a competitive flow of granulate of constant and sufficiently high quality.
- Granulate are small pellets of plastic from which products are eventually made.
- Goal one of the project is to be able to produce consistent, high quality granulate. Attero and TUSTI will be the primary partners in this effort.
- Development of a competitive film made from recycled plastic.
The goal is then to make a competitive film from this recycled granulate. That is, a film that is easy to produce at an attractive price with a competitive quality. This step involves us working mainly with Oerlemans and TU Eindhoven. In cooperation with TU, we will conduct experimental analyses of the Attero granulate and of mixtures of this with well-chosen other materials. This serves to examine the quality, properties, and consistency and variation therein. Oerlemans will eventually produce those plastic films.
Development of circular packaging for consumer products with the highest possible percentage of recycled content. As a final step, the plastic films will be tested in the production of compost bags. This is where Pokon Naturado will be working mostly in collaboration with the Oerlemans development team.
The role of Dow
Jaap has the following to say about the role of Dow: “Within the recycling world, the basic knowledge of plastic is very limited. You have a lot of parties there who are good at waste, collection, sorting, but otherwise it's still a bit in its infancy as far as the properties of plastics are concerned. That's what Dow is very good at, so we are the experts in that field. The new part is that now we are not starting from the smallest molecule, but from an already reused substance.”
The current status
The project started more than a year ago now and the first phase is now complete. “The first phase consisted of properly understanding what we have in terms of granulate (plastic pellets) and any potential problems with it. For example, there was a certain, unpleasant smell to it, which we have since improved. Right now we are testing what percentage of recycled material can be used in this new film. 100% recycled material is probably not possible, because then you sacrifice too much in terms of quality, but whether it will be 60% or for example 50/50, we are investigating that now.”
As for the future of the project, Jaap knows: “Ultimately, we want to get to the point where we can make a high-quality consumer product using the highest possible percentage of recycled material. So the next step, once we have found the ideal plastic combination, is to make compost bags. We estimate that we will be able to tell more about the results by the end of this year. The goal is to launch a prototype of those compost bags in early 2022!”