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BASF, Coca-Cola, EC Break New Ground on Plastics Recycling

Continuing this year’s wave of near-constant innovations aimed at responsible management of post-consumer plastics are new advancements from both the private and public sector. BASF making products with chemically recycled plastics BASF announced it has broken new ground in plastic waste recycling with its ChemCycling project. Chemical recycling provides an innovative way to reutilize currently unrecyclable plastic waste, such as mixed or uncleaned plastics. Depending on the region, such waste is usually sent to landfill or burned with energy recovery.

Continuing this year’s wave of near-constant innovations aimed at responsible management of post-consumer plastics are new advancements from both the private and public sector.

BASF making products with chemically recycled plastics

BASF announced it has broken new ground in plastic waste recycling with its ChemCycling project. Chemical recycling provides an innovative way to reutilize currently unrecyclable plastic waste, such as mixed or uncleaned plastics. Depending on the region, such waste is usually sent to landfill or burned with energy recovery.

But chemical recycling offers another alternative: Using thermochemical processes, these plastics can be utilized to produce syngas or oils. The resulting recycled raw materials are now partially replacing fossil resources as inputs in BASF’s production — making the company a pioneer in the manufacture of products based on chemically recycled plastic waste.

“A responsible use of plastics is crucial to solve the world’s waste problem. This applies to companies as well as to institutions and consumers. With chemical recycling we want to make a significant contribution in reducing the amount of plastic waste,” said Dr. Martin Brudermüller, Chairman of the Board of Executive Directors and Chief Technology Officer of BASF SE. “With our ChemCycling project, we are using plastic waste as a resource. In this way, we create value for the environment, society and the economy. We have joined forces with partners throughout the value chain to establish a working circular model.”

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BASF is collaborating closely with its customers and partners, which range from waste management companies to technology providers and packaging producers, to build a circular value chain.

From waste to cheese packaging and fridge components

BASF is already developing pilot products, including mozzarella packaging, refrigerator components and insulation panels, with 10 customers from various industries. They are manufacturing products that meet high quality and hygiene standards — specifically required for food packaging, for example — as BASF’s ChemCycling products have the same properties as products made from fossil resources.

“This new way of recycling offers opportunities for innovative business models for us and our customers, who already place great value on products and packaging made from recycled materials but who cannot or do not want to make any compromises when it comes to quality,” says Stefan Gräter, head of the ChemCycling project.

As a next step, BASF plans to make the first products from the ChemCycling project commercially available.

BASF Verbund offers ideal conditions for ChemCycling

BASF starts by feeding oil derived from plastic waste by an oiling process into the Production Verbund. BASF gets this feedstock for the pilot products from partner Recenso GmbH, Germany. As an alternative, syngas made from plastic waste can also be used. The first batch of this oil was fed into the steam cracker at BASF’s site in Ludwigshafen — the starting point for Verbund production, which breaks down or “cracks” this raw material at temperatures of around 850 degrees Celsius — in October. The primary outputs of the process are ethylene and propylene, which are used in the Verbund to make numerous chemical products. Under the mass balance approach, the share of recycled raw material can be mathematically allocated to the final certified product. Each customer can select the allocated percentage of recycled material.

Technological and regulatory challenges

Both the market and society expect industry to come up with constructive solutions to deal with plastic waste. Chemical recycling is an innovative complement to other recycling and waste management processes.

“We need a wide range of recovery options for plastic waste, since not every solution is suitable for each type of waste or possible for each product application,” explained Andreas Kicherer, sustainability expert at BASF. “The first choice should always be the solution that performs best in a life cycle assessment.”

While excited about its potential, BASF acknowledges that technological and regulatory conditions must be met before the project is market-ready — the existing technologies to recycle plastic waste into raw materials such as pyrolysis oil or syngas must be further developed and adapted so that consistently high quality is assured; and regional regulatory frameworks will considerably influence to what extent this approach can be established in each market.

Coca-Cola partners to transform hard-to-recycle plastic waste into high-quality, food-grade PET

Continuing to make headway of its own is the Coca-Cola Company, which has extended a loan to Ioniqa Technologies — a clean-tech spinoff from the Eindhoven University of Technology in The Netherlands, specialized in creating value out of waste by closing the loop on plastics — to facilitate the development of Ioniqa’s proprietary technology to produce high-grade, recycled PET content from hard-to-recycle PET waste. The agreement is designed to accelerate the development and deployment of high-grade recycled content PET for use by Coca-Cola in its bottles.

The investment supports the company’s ambition to work toward a World Without Waste, which includes a goal to create packaging made of at least 50 percent recycled material by 2030. The new technology supports a circular economy for plastics by allowing packages such as colored PET bottles, which may have been excluded from certain recycling streams, to be recycled into food-grade-quality packaging.

“Our investment in new and pioneering recycling technologies is an opportunity for significant movement toward closing the loop and creating a circular economy for PET,” said Robert Long, Coca-Cola’s Chief Innovation Officer. “We plan to continue investment in developing the right partnerships and initiatives to support our vision of a World Without Waste.”

The agreement aims to accelerate scale-up of Ioniqa’s recycling technology for PET. Ioniqa — which earlier this year partnered with Unilever and Indorama Ventures to apply its pioneering recycling technology to breaking down food packaging waste — is able to convert hard-to-recycle, PET-containing waste such as colored bottles into purified, polymer-building blocks that can later be re-formed into high-quality PET. The technology has been validated at the demonstration scale with value chain partners, and a 10-kMT industrial plant is under construction in The Netherlands for commissioning in 2019.

“Partnering with The Coca-Cola Company is a further validation of our journey to launch this unique process for transforming hard-to-recycle PET waste into high-quality, food-grade material,” said Tonnis Hooghoudt, CEO of Ioniqa. “The Ioniqa process allows for significant recovery and reuse of plastic materials that might otherwise not be recycled, while delivering quality, food-grade PET. The launch of our plant next year will be a step change in the transformation of hard-to-recycle PET plastic into a more widely usable recycled material, supporting the vision of Coca-Cola.”

Circular Plastics Alliance to foster European market for recycled plastics

Then, on the government front, last week — hot on the heels of the European Parliament’s backing of a sweeping ban on single-use plastics — the European Commission continued laying groundwork to implement a circular economy with the launch of the Circular Plastics Alliance, aimed at improving the economics and quality of plastics recycling in Europe. The Alliance will in particular strengthen the match between supply and demand for recycled plastics which is identified as the main obstacle to a well-functioning EU market of recycled plastics.

With this new initiative, the Commission wants to contribute to its objective of achieving at least 10 million tons of recycled plastics into new products on the EU market by 2025, as set in the European Strategy for Plastics.

"European industry has already clearly committed to more sustainable plastics with the pledges that they have submitted to the Commission. Business understands this is an opportunity to innovate and to become global frontrunners in new technology and materials, in line with circular economy logic,” said Vice-President Jyrki Katainen, responsible for Jobs, Growth, Investment and Competitiveness. “The platform will encourage cooperation and dialogue between market operators, both on the supply and the demand side, so that we can together build a well-functioning market for recycled plastics."

The Circular Plastics Alliance will be a high-level, multi-stakeholder platform gathering key industry stakeholders covering the full plastics value chain — from waste collectors to recyclers and primary producers to converters, brand owners and retailers — with particular emphasis on the packaging, construction and automotive sectors.

The Alliance will pursue three main operational objectives:

  • Fostering short-term, voluntary and coordinated actions and investments by key industry stakeholders. There actions and investments may cover separate collection of plastic waste; harmonised reporting on collection and recycling rates and volumes; investments in sorting and recycling facilities; voluntary standards on the 'design for recycling' of plastic products and others. Improving the economics and quality of plastics recycling in Europe would contribute to the achievement of the 10-million-tons target by 2025. Public authorities across Europe should also play an active role in that.
  • Reporting on the obstacles, which may hamper stakeholders' efforts to fully deliver on their pledges and to reach the target set for 2025. Some of those already identified include lack of infrastructure, insufficient access to finance and standardisation gaps.
  • Monitoring progress made towards more plastics recycling and more uptake of recycled plastics in Europe. The monitoring should help identify the gaps in the supply and demand for different recycled plastics. In parallel, new voluntary commitments will be encouraged.

First Vice-President Frans Timmermans, responsible for sustainable development, said: "Close cooperation within and between all the links in the plastics value chain is essential if we are to achieve a true circular plastics economy and ensure that recycled plastics find their way to new products, instead of into landfills or the incinerators. The Circular Plastics Alliance aims to facilitate this cooperation, building on the commitments the plastics industry has already made and encouraging even more ambitious action. Europe already leads this, and Europe will be the first one to reap the benefits, as well. This is the best way to show the world that a circular plastic economy is good for the business and good for the environment."

Next steps

The Commission will invite key industry stakeholders to join the Alliance, in particular from the above-mentioned sectors, which account for most demand for plastics in Europe, with more sectors to be approached in order to address the full plastics value chain. The first meeting of the Circular Plastics Alliance will be organised as part of the EU Industry Days on 05 February 2019. A series of operational meetings on the key topics identified by the Alliance at its first meeting will take between March and May 2019.

Interested parties may contact for further information.