To increase the recycling rate of plastic waste and complement mechanical recycling, industrially feasible chemical recycling processes capable to utilize mixed plastic waste are needed. Plastics incineration and ending up in landfill, both causing CO2 emissions, littering and microplastics need to be minimized. The UrbanMill project coordinated by VTT and Aalto University is an important part of the SPIRIT ecosystem, bringing together the key actors of the plastics recycling value chain. The key actors co-develop enabling technologies that utilise highly mixed plastic waste as feedstock for chemical recycling, turning it to new high-quality plastic materials.
Even though plastics are versatile lightweight materials posing many advantages, lacking recycling of plastics also causes huge environmental challenges regarding littering and CO2 emissions when burned. Both challenges can be mitigated if plastic waste is properly collected and effectively recycled. The recycling rate of packaging plastics in Finland is currently only about 30% as the new waste law sets target of 55% by 2030. Thus, there is an enormous need to increase the share of the plastic waste that can be industrially recycled back to new high quality plastic materials.
Plastics can be recycled mechanically and chemically and efficient processes and operations in both of those are needed to be able to meet the EU and national recycling targets. Whereas mechanical recycling is a good process for recycling pure and homogenic plastic waste, it is sensitive to raw material quality. Chemical recycling is needed to those fractions that cannot be mechanically recycled. In chemical recycling, as plastics are broken down into starting materials, i.e. monomers, new high-quality plastics can be produced. Chemical recycling is in principle much less sensitive to the purity of the plastic waste, but on the other hand is more energy intensive process.
“Chemical recycling based on pyrolysis is on the verge of an industrial giant leap as new investments to demonstration and production units are frequently announced. However, many of these early demo units are still using relatively pure plastic waste fractions leaving a large share of plastic waste incinerated. UrbanMill project aims to develop enabling recycling technologies for difficult-to-recycle highly mixed plastic waste,” says Mika Härkönen, Professor of Practice at VTT.
The two-year project of 3 M€ is funded by Business Finland and coordinated by VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland in cooperation with Aalto University. It spans multiple industrial sectors in the plastic recycling value chain and creates strong networks and collaboration. The UrbanMill is focused on creating novel concepts by combining tailored pre- and post-treatment technologies with pyrolysis, and closely linked to ecosystems for leading companies of Borealis (SPIRIT programme) and that of Valmet (Beyond Circularity). The other participating companies are Corex, Wipak, Kaipola Recycling, Keskinen Recycling, Lamor, PR Pulping, Resiclo, Salpakierto, Sulapac and Suomen Uusiomuovi.
“The UrbanMill project develops a sustainable industrial chemical recycling concept for plastic waste which cannot be mechanically recycled. It supports the targets of the Borealis SPIRIT programme by increasing the plastic recycling rate, providing recycled feedstock for plastic production and aiming at high-quality recycled plastic. The cooperation possibilities within the consortium look very promising,” says Jaakko Tuomainen, Manager of circular plastics in Borealis SPIRIT programme.
Antti Raiko, Project manager of plastic chemical recycling in Valmet Beyond Circularity program says: “New technology solutions are needed to solve the huge plastic recycling problem and to reach the set EU targets. The UrbanMill project aims to develop process concepts to enable better plastic recycling with pre-treatment, pyrolysis and post-treatment. These new solutions are needed in the industry to move forward to a circular economy for plastics.”
”Creating sustainable ecosystems around circularity of multilayer packaging waste is a great challenge taken on by the SPIRIT programme. It offers highest potential for the concept of Closing the Loop especially in Food and Medical packaging applications,” concludes Timo Ouninkorpi, Senior Advisor at Wipak Group.
Anja Oasmaa, Senior Principal Scientist, VTT, anja.oasmaa_at_vtt.fi
Mika Härkönen, Professor of Practice, VTT, mika.harkonen_at_vtt.fi
Jaakko Tuomainen, Manager of Circular Plastics, Borealis, jaakko.tuomainen_at_borealisgroup.com
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