Breakthrough recycling technology drives circular economy

Discarded plastic bags and thrown-away food wrappings are a blot on the landscape and pose more than just a blip to environmental protection. But an innovative new polymer recycling plant built under the LIFE AGANFOILS project will demonstrate that such difficult-to-treat material can also be recycled and be part of the circular economy revolution.

Dutch waste management company Attero constructed the plant thanks to LIFE funding. Attero’s new Polymer Recycling Plant will be officially opened in the presence of the First Vice-President of the European Commission, Frans Timmermans, and Attero’s CEO Paul Ganzeboom on 15th March, in Wijster, Netherlands.

“The project combines several complex techniques which makes this truly innovative. The LIFE financing enabled us to reduce the technological risks via upfront testing of the developed technology and to demonstrate that plastic foils can be recycled as versatile, high-quality plastic granules,” explains CEO Paul Ganzeboom.

The AGANFOILS recycling plants now support the circular economy by transforming intractable post-consumer low-density polyethylene (LDPE) foils into plastic granules that can be recycled into materials that are as good as new foils (“Aganfoils”).

LDPE plastic waste comes from foils for food wrapping or shopping bags, usually dirty and often covered in organic material and adhesives. Cleaning it requires an intensive process of washing, drying and grinding. Many countries thus simply incinerate LDPE or send it to landfill, and only a small amount is recycled – but unsatisfactorily, given the poor quality of the recycled granules produced.

Clean to go

The plant in Wijster in the northern Dutch province of Drenthe is set to change all that. “Our new plant – that uses heat from our company’s waste-to-energy plant – has the technical capabilities to clean this very polluted post-consumer film to a quality regranulate that enables producers to make new film products out of it,” says Mr Ganzeboom. Given that it will be able to produce large quantities of quality granules at a low carbon footprint, the waste company foresees a great demand for the product. Attero is already shipping regranulate to different producers that are developing high-end products such as film products that again will be available in shops.

Moreover, the new plant will ceate around 30 new jobs and Attero has “ambitions to grow further in plastic packaging recycling and will consider opportunities for expansion in the future”, says Mr Ganzeboom. “There is a lack of recycling capacity in Europe, especially for plastics packaging such as post-consumer film. To implement the new EU plastics strategy, Member States will need to address this shortage.”

Stepping up demand

He adds that “to further drive demand and make initiatives like AGANFOILS viable in other European countries it is essential that more recycled content is applied in packaging and other plastic products”. Governments should step up for green procurement to include such recycling as well as lower the extended producer responsibility (EPR) fees for producers who apply recycled content and design-for-recycling, he adds.

The Attero CEO is confident that the results of the LIFE AGANFOILS project will be transferable to other Member States and has already received interest from other parties within Europe.

The Dutch plant itself is expected to recycle around 24 000 tonnes per year of post-consumer plastic film waste, leading to about 15 000 tonnes per year of high-quality plastic regranulate. Since the waste LDPE would no longer need to be transported from the Netherlands to Germany, this would reduce CO2 emissions by up to 1 100 tonnes per year. Using waste heat and renewable energy coming from the waste-to-energy facility will also lower carbon emissions.

Closing the circle

LIFE AGANFOILS can be viewed as a particularly good example of a closed-loop process, demonstrating how the EU’s vision for a European circular economy can be implemented into reality. The project also underpins the EU plastics strategy to make all plastic packaging recyclable by 2030. In addition, it will help to safeguard resources for EU businesses as laid out in the EU action plan for the circular economy and recycle domestic waste to avoid landfilling as set out as in the EU framework directive on waste.