“Plastic is not a problem, we just have to manage it intelligently”
The start-up Recyclinnova wants to use chemical recycling to complete the cycle of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic. âCurrently, most of it ends up in landfills or is incinerated,â Loise points out. “This is what makes it a source of CO2 emissions, but also a waste of precious materials.” Plastic is now mainly recycled mechanically. There are downsides to that, argues the Italian. âIf it is contaminated plastic, mechanical recycling will not work. Plus, the quality of the material degrades every time you reuse it.
In 2018, Loise officially joined the start-up, founded in 2016. The two engineers and chemist who created the company had found a new way to recycle PET in an efficient, chemical and green way. âI was already involved before, purely out of passion,â says the chemist. The chemical engineer previously worked in the food packaging industry. âSo I know how high the standards are for these materials and have seen the issues with recycling up close. “
For Loise, banning plastic is unrealistic. According to him, we need to improve the technology used in recycling. âThis is how we can fight pollution. We need to make sure that we reduce the amount of non-recyclable plastic. “
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There are many different types of plastics, each with a different composition. In particular, a lot of polyethylene terephthalate, abbreviated PET, is used in our daily life. For example, we drink it (soft drink bottles) and wear it (fleece clothing). It is also found, for example, in the filament used to make 3D printed models. Other types include: high-density plastic, from which crates are made, PVC found in drugs, and low-density plastic, such as plastic sheets and bags. Not all types of plastic can be recycled.
In a few decades, plastic production has increased from 1.5 million tonnes in 1950 to 359 million tonnes in 2018 worldwide. Europeans produce 25 million tonnes of plastic waste each year, of which less than 30% is collected for recycling. In order to fight against pollution, the European Commission has set a target that all plastic packaging on the European market will be recyclable by 2030.
The European Union has approved legislation that requires each member state to pay 18 cents for every kilogram of non-recycled plastic from January 2021. âTherefore, it costs the state money every year that a business does not recycle. Companies need to know if what they put on the market is recyclable. In order to prevent the material from ending up in landfills or, in the worst case, in the sea.
âWe want to help businesses,â Loise says. The patented technology will allow the start-up to manufacture new raw materials from existing PET. The structure of plastic changes, which makes it possible to make new materials. âWe break down the polymers from which caps, labels and bottles, for example, are made into their basic molecules: Monomers. We can use them to make new PET products. But we can also resell this raw material to other companies. They’ll use it for something completely different, but then they’ll know for sure that the material can be recycled.
The company moved this summer from Italy to the Brightlands Chemelot campus in Limburg, the Netherlands, where companies and researchers are working on innovative materials. The Italians have deliberately chosen this campus to be able to test and further improve their technology. âWe want to bring our technology to market as soon as possible. The number of start-ups also focused on chemical recycling is increasing. We want to stay ahead of the competition. Brightlands is a stepping stone to the market for us.
According to Loise, it is sometimes difficult to talk about plastic. âThe media have made this a huge problem. If you really look at the problem, the problem is not the plastic itself, but the way people use that plastic. If we use plastic without knowing where it ends up at the end of its lifespan, that is the real problem. It is unrealistic to try to fight plastic. It’s just everywhere, it’s woven into the things we use every day. We need to improve the technology to recycle plastic.
Needless to say, plastic is also a behavior problem, says Loise. âPeople have to be prepared to sort their waste properly. This is where the municipality has a role to play. It should help people make waste sorting more convenient. The better you do it, the higher the quality. Loise realizes he’s working on a small part of the solution. âBut I hope that by looking at the problem differently, we can understand it more clearly. We can imagine a world where waste is not something we should be afraid of. “