With new designs, biodegradable materials and an advanced control system, the project will turn the current linear chain into a circular one.
Plastic packaging accounts for approximately 40% of the overall demand for plastic in Europe, and although work is being done to recover and recycle that waste, roughly 8 Mt of plastic end up at the dump every year in Europe. To boost the chain's sustainability by transforming plastic waste into usable resources, 22 partners from six European countries have teamed together in the CIRC-PACK project, which is financed by the European Commission under Horizon2020. The project is coordinated in Spain by Fundación CIRCE, with other Spanish companies also taking part such as Aitiip, Tecnopackaging, Grupo Sada, UNE, Ecoembes, Calaf Industrial and OCU. This consortium includes players from every stage of the value chain: consumers, packaging manufacturers, plastic suppliers and businesses that take care of transforming and recovering used plastic.
Over a three-year research period, CIRC-PACK will look into ways of minimising the amount of plastic waste that ends up at the dump by turning the linear value chain for packaging into a circular one. The ultimate goal is to achieve a more sustainable chain, which means lessening the environmental, economic and social impact of plastic packaging and helping to shape a real circular economy. The project intends for the plastic packaging chain to cut the volume of waste produced at each stage down to a minimum, by turning it into new resources that will be fed back into the cycle and reused at different points, giving rise to a whole new business model. This constant feedback into the chain will be possible thanks to a series of measures applied at various stages in the production process.
First of all, this will involve improvements in packaging design. New packaging solutions will be conceived to make it easier to separate the materials at the end of their useful life, streamlining the process and making more resources available. The idea is also to better design packaging that contains different materials as well as plastic, making it easier to recover and recycle.
More sustainable resources will be used to produce plastics that are made entirely of raw materials from renewable sources and recycled waste, as opposed to fossil resources. They will also be biodegradable, compostable and harmless to crops for human consumption. CIRC-PACK will be developing and validating these organic-based plastics by producing packaging, trays, bottles, coffee capsules, jars, films and pallets.
The new design will seek to enhance the second life of the materials used. Preference will be given to recycled resources used as raw materials in plastic packaging that is intended for food and beverages, detergents and cosmetics, as well as in the automotive and absorbent hygiene product sectors. The project also intends to foster synergies among different players in the value chain and other sectors, with a view to turning the plastic waste of one player into high added value raw material for another. This will involve applying a careful monitoring system during the stages of separation and recycling so as to maximise and ensure the quality of the recycled product according to the final use it will be put to. This system is geared towards improving the market of recovered plastic and give it a second life.
The second measure will involve revisiting and adapting the process of collecting, classifying and recovering plastic waste according to the new design so as to boost efficiency and increase the proportion of waste that gets recycled.
CIRC-PACK will also analyse existing legal constraints, bottlenecks and other non-technological barriers which are hindering the optimisation of this value chain.
The last measure consists in verifying the applicability of the proposals in technical, social and market terms, which would bring the exploitation strategy of this project to a close, in the hope that it will become a reality in the not-too-distant future.