Viridor and Plastic Energy Announce UK Circular Economy Collaboration
How chemical recycling will integrate plastics into the circular economy.
Earlier this week, UK recycling giant Viridor announced a ground-breaking collaboration with PLASTIC ENERGY, marking a significant step towards the creation of a circular economy.
Both companies have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), with feasibility work is now underway to develop a facility that “makes plastic infinitely recyclable by returning it to recycled oils”.
If successful the project could return up to 30,000 tonnes of previously unrecycled plastic into the UK economy each year, with completion estimated as soon as 2023.
As explained in a press release on Monday:
“Viridor would provide predominantly low-density plastic film – a stream traditionally not recycled due to contamination – to a PLASTIC ENERGY chemical recycling plant. This project envisages a plant co-located with a Viridor energy recovery facility, allowing PLASTIC ENERGY to draw low-carbon electricity generated from the process Viridor uses to put non-recyclable waste to work as a fuel source.”
The facility itself is to be owned, run and operated by PLASTIC ENERGY, who through Thermal Anaerobic Conversion (TAC) will transform this previously unrecyclable plastic waste into TACOIL. This optimal feedstock can then be used to produce clean recycled plastics (Plastic2Plastic) in collaboration with chemical companies such as Ineos, with PLASTIC ENERGY announcing a partnership with them late last month.
Integrated with Viridor’s polymer investments, this project is set to provide a more complete plastic recycling solution through chemical recycling, reducing plastic waste and increasing overall circularity.
The Circular Economy
Plastic waste has long been a topic of both public, and governmental concern. In the UK alone over 2 million tonnes of plastic packaging are used every year, the majority of which end up either in landfill, or exported abroad.
On a global scale, plastic waste figures are even more staggering, with only 9% of the 8.3 billion tonnes of virgin plastic produced worldwide having been recycled, according to a 2017 Science Advances paper.
This cycle of waste is driven by the nature of our economy, which at present is wholly unsustainable. To move towards a carbon net-zero future, our linear path of consumption from manufacturing, to use, to disposal must change through a shift towards a circular economy.
As defined by Plastics Europe, “in a circular economy, we keep resources in use for as long as possible, extract the maximum value from them whilst in use, then recover and regenerate products and materials at the end of their service life. As a result, a circular economy also offers a way to improve Europe’s competitiveness and resource efficiency.”
“The unique characteristics of plastics enable them to play a major role on the road to a more sustainable and resource efficient future,” Plastics Europe continues, outlining their crucial role in construction, renewable energy and as food waste reduction through packaging.
The role of plastics has become even more essential in the present day, as they continue to protect our front-line healthcare workers against the spread of COVID-19. However, although instrumental in ensuring worker safety, this surge in single-use plastic waste poses long term risk to both the environment and human health.
In a recent report, The European Academies Science Advisory Council (EASAC) concluded that to mitigate the detrimental effects of plastic waste on a global scale, they must be integrated into a circular economy through recovery and reuse.
Requiring a “fundamental and systemic reforms are required along the whole value chain”, the EASAC recommends several key strategies for addressing these issues, beginning with the development of advanced recycling and reprocessing technology. The EASAC notes that for some materials recycling remains “exceptionally difficult, and a range of options need to be developed to extract value from current low- or negative-value mixed plastic waste.”
As Ineos Olefins & Polymers Europe CEO Rob Ingram said in a press release late last month:
“To take plastic waste back to virgin plastic is the ultimate definition of recycling and will create a truly circular economy solution.”
Therefore, through harnessing the power of chemical recycling, the collaboration between Viridor and PLASTIC ENERGY marks a significant step forward in this area, with enormous potential to reduce plastic waste if done at scale.
However, the EASAC goes on to conclude that “voluntary mechanisms and market mechanisms are insufficient to address the problem.”
Professor Michael Norton of the EASAC argues that “European legislators should adopt rules and incentives to speed up the move toward a circular plastic waste economy. We have to reuse plastic goods and packaging, drastically improve our recycling and, above all, see that no waste is leaked into the environment.”
Therefore, although these innovations mark an important advancement towards these goals, the responsibilities of governments, and legislators should not be overlooked. Rather, as emphasised in a recent report entitled ‘’Plastic packaging – How do we get to where we want to be?’, change must be collaborative, with private and public stakeholders working together to solve the UK’s waste problems.
As the leader of the study Dr Eleni Iacovidou explains:
“The complexity of the plastic packaging system means that there is no one perfect solution to the many problems that plague the plastic packaging system and that a number of targeted, informed ways of addressing these issues is needed.”
As a result, moving forward government agencies such as DEFRA should work with Viridor, PLASTIC ENERGY and Ineos to support and further these developments.
Phillip Piddington, Managing Director of Viridor, said: “This project is further evidence of Viridor’s ongoing commitment to investment and innovation to push the boundaries of what is recycled and reprocessed in the United Kingdom. We are very proud to be working with Plastic Energy to develop a project which further demonstrates how all waste can be considered a resource and not rubbish and that collaboration is the key to achieving our green economy goals.”
Carlos Monreal, Founder and CEO of PLASTIC ENERGY, said: “We are delighted to support the development of an integrated site with Viridor in the UK and provide a solution for plastics previously not recycled. Chemical recycling will support government’s goal to move towards a circular economy and to increase recycling rates for plastics, effectively making plastic waste a valuable resource.”