RE:source – Chemical Recycling of Polyester

How can the recyclability of plastic increase? Particularly contaminated plastics that current recycling processes cannot handle? These are questions posed by a team of researchers in a RE:source funded project. Axfoundation, Axel Johnson International and Axfood, are part of the project team exploring the recycling potential of a residual flow of plastic waste.

We want to contribute to the development of alternative plastic recycling processes.

We want to contribute to the development of alternative plastic recycling processes.

The Issue

Pollution from plastic waste has become a global environmental and societal problem. Despite this, plastic use is expected to quadruple over the next century meaning also that emissions from plastic production will increase. In the EU alone, plastic emissions are expected to almost double by 2050. How we handle and recycle plastics will be crucial to reaching the Paris Agreement. A major obstacle to increasing recycling is that all too often the plastic is contaminated, containing staining pigments, emollients, flame retardants, chemicals, labels, adhesives or laminates, which makes the plastic difficult or impossible to recycle.

Our Solution

Plastics that cannot be mechanically recycled are usually incinerated or sent to the landfill, leading not only to the loss of the material but also to a string of negative environmental effects. One way to increase plastic recycling is through chemical recycling. Chemical recycling is able to handle contaminated plastic material, giving this technique an important role to play in the circular economy when other methods of recycling are not possible. Rapid development is taking place in the market for chemically recycled plastics and research is progressing quickly.

Our Work

RISE (Research Institutes of Sweden) together with 12 other partners lead the project “Chemically recycled PET and polyester as raw material for additive and new polymers”, funded by the research program RE:source. The project is developing a process that chemically breaks down plastics and textiles into building blocks that can then be used to produce new polymers for PET and polyester, or synthesize environmentally friendly plasticizers for PVC.

Globally there are several chemical recycling initiatives underway that employ depolymerization. However several of these initiatives only handle specific, usually very pure, streams of waste such as PET bottles. This project aims to develop a recycling process that can handle several different streams of waste, recycle contaminated plastics, and provide the level of purity necessary for re-production. Axfoundation is part of the project group together with Axel Johnson International and Axfood.

The aim of this project is to explore the possibilities in recycling a significant amount of end-of-life polyester straps and round-slings from Axel Johnson International’s operations, which can be recycled and used as a resource by, for example, Axfood. This material is often dirty and oily and therefore fits perfectly into the project that aims to handle contaminated materials.

Partners

Axfoundation works with a variety of actors within the industry, as well as with civil society and the government.

Axel Johnson International, Axfood, RISE

Projects within Circular Economy

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