EU Green Recovery Package must boost innovative plastics recycling technologies

992
APK-Werk in Merseburg (Foto: APK AG)

The recently presented EU Recovery Plan is a necessary means to helping waste management companies achieve a circular economy across Europe. “The circular economy must be a guiding principle for EU recovery and future growth plans – especially when it comes to the plastics sector”, states Klaus Wohnig, CEO, APK AG.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has interrupted recyclers’ supply chains and, aggravated by the low price of virgin materials on top of low oil prices, demand for plastic recyclates has decreased dramatically’. This development is diametrically opposed to the ambitious Green Deal plans of the EU Commission with regard to boosting the quality of plastics recycling, increasing resource efficiency and decreasing emissions. “We do need to overcome the Covid-19 pandemic, but this recovery package is also a major opportunity to invest in a Green Deal infrastructure that will carve out new paths for the coming decades of European industrial development,” emphasised Wohnig.

A strong focus on and investments in innovative plastics recycling technologies are essential to the plastics industry’s transition to a circular economy. The European Commission’s Recovery Plan as well as ongoing Green Deal initiatives should therefore facilitate the uptake of market-ready options, such as dissolution recycling, along with future chemical recycling options.

Near-virgin material quality recyclates

In contrast to conventional mechanical recycling, dissolution recycling processes, such as APK’s “Newcycling technology”, combine a mechanical pre-treatment with a solvation step. The polymer is purified of different types of contaminants, such as organic impurities, inks and other additives. Dissolution recycling results in near-virgin material quality recyclates. What is more, the process is able to handle complex waste streams, such as multi-layer plastic products. The different polymers are simply separated during the dissolution step. Currently, such technology is often subsumed under chemical recycling – which is inaccurate. The benefits and performance of both technology families need to be evaluated separately. The major difference that sets dissolution recycling technologies apart from chemical recycling is that they do not impact the molecular chain of the polymer, as occurs in chemical recycling processes. The energy that once was invested in polymerisation is saved. Consequently, the environmental impact of dissolution recycling is lower, while it still produces high quality plastic recyclates.

Recycled polyethylene granulate produced with APK´s Newcycling technology in Merseburg (Photo: APK AG)

“With Newcycling, we are not simply aiming to close just any loop in the area of flexible packaging and multilayer plastic waste: we are aiming to create the most closed loop feasible – e.g. from packaging applications to waste and back to the same application,” says Jürgen Flesch, CTO, APK AG. “In our process, we put a major emphasis on reducing emissions as much as is possible.” Newcycling polyethylene and polyamide recyclates feature on average a 66 per cent lower carbon footprint than virgin PE and PA. The technology is not only a cornerstone for plastics circularity, but also an important potential contributor to EU climate protection goals.

Dissolution recycling is covered by the EU Waste Framework Directive definition of recycling. All relevant initiatives at the EU level aimed at facilitating recovery and boosting the efficiency of plastic waste management should acknowledge innovative recycling technologies and their impact on calculations for recycling targets. This would secure investments in a strong mix of recycling technologies, enabling the Member States to match the EU and Circular Plastics Alliances goals in the coming years.

About APK

APK was founded in 2008 with the vision of producing pure polymers from plastic waste, with properties close to virgin plastics. APK researchers and engineers have developed a suite of environmentally sound and market-leading recycling technologies under the Newcycling® brand. At its industrial-scale plant in Merseburg (Saxony-Anhalt, Germany), APK currently employs around 130 engineers, researchers and administrative staff, and features a recycling capacity of up to 20,000 tonnes per year. The two well-established plastic recyclate types produced in Merseburg are marketed as Mersalen® and Mersamid®.

Source: APK AG