Chemistry, Materials & Packaging
Network Waste, University of East Anglia Working to Turn Paper Mill Waste Into Bioplastic

UK waste-management company Network Waste recently announced it has been working with the Adapt Low Carbon Group at the University of East Anglia on a groundbreaking approach to waste management that could lead to paper waste being turned into bioplastic.

The Norfolk-based company is in partnership with the University’s Adapt Low Carbon Group on a project involving paper crumb — the waste from paper milling — in cooperation with a Network Waste customer that produces up to 7,000 tons of damp paper crumb waste per year at its mill.

Network Waste said the waste is currently spread on land, but this is an energy-intensive process that requires removal of large amounts of water. The company asked Adapt to investigate whether a more sustainable commercial use could be found for paper crumb.

Network Waste national account manager Stuart Towler said: “We are a business which is always trying to find practical solutions for our customers in waste management and we are always looking for something innovative. We recognise that working with Adapt allows us to tap into cutting-edge academic research. This is an option that very few businesses in the waste management world have and we believe that the paper crumb project could be something special.

“Working closely with our customer we wanted to find out if there was some other use for the paper crumb rather than spreading it on the land. Similar waste is being produced by other paper milling operations and, as far as we are aware, little else is being done with it in the industry.”

One possibility being explored is the conversion of paper crumb into intermediates that can be used, for example, in the bio-plastic manufacturing process. The paper waste is composed of complex sugars and research is focused on their effective recovery and ways to turn them into a feedstock; bio-based feedstocks such as paper crumb are of increasing interest to the chemical industry.

Dr Agnieszka Krzyzaniak, Adapt Group Business Innovation Manager, said: "Looking to use this bio-processed material in the chemical industry is a fine example of adding extra value to the paper waste. We believe that the sugars found in the paper waste can help to replace traditional processes based on fossil fuels.”

The paper waste could also be used in the construction industry to be blended with concrete.

“This is something which we see as a quick win because there are already companies doing this,” Dr Krzyzaniak added.

The partnership is in its infancy but both sides are optimistic that it could make a significant impact on recycling in the paper industry.

With paper crumb added to the growing list of viable bio-based feedstocks — including lignin, biomass and food waste — we may yet achieve a future free of fossil-based plastics.

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