Earth Day 2020: How Chemical Recycling Is Building Sustainable Solutions: Page 3 of 3

Loop Industries’ low-energy technology means that waste PET plastic and polyester fiber can be diverted away from landfills and the environment, depolyermized into their base building blocks, purified and polymerized into virgin-quality Loop PET resin. Obviously the key to this is finding end markets to purchase the Loop-branded PET resin, something Loop has found success doing. Last year, L’Occitane Group, a global manufacturer and retailer of natural cosmetics and well-being products with five leading brands, signed a multi-year “take or pay supply agreement” for Loop-branded 100% sustainable PET plastic. The agreement will see L’Occitane en Provence start to incorporate Loop PET plastic into its packaging starting in 2022.

Loop Industries signs agreement with L'Oréal

In March 2020, Loop Industries announced a multi-year supply agreement with beauty products maker L’Oréal, a collaboration that began in 2018 and is entering a “new step forward” for the supply of sustainable PET resin. The resin is to be supplied from Loop Industries’ joint-venture facility in Spartanburg, SC, with Indorama Ventures, a global integrated leader in PET plastic and polyester fiber manufacturing. According to Loop Industries’ information, the growing demand for its resin has driven the joint venture’s decision to increase the facility’s production capacity to 40 KT per year.

“Supporting businesses in achieving their sustainability objectives while helping consumers understand the potential of plastic in a circular economy model is at the core of Loop’s mission,” said Giovanni Catino, Senior Director, Sales and Business Development.

IBM Volcat recycling
IBM's VolCat process upcycles discarded products into new, high-value materials of better quality and environmental value. Image courtesy IBM.

Another upcycling technology announced last year involves IBM’s VolCat process. Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) announced an innovative method of plastics upcycling that transforms discarded products into new, high-value materials of better quality and environmental value, with the goal of incentivizing recycling of waste plastics.

Senior Research Fellow Gregg Beckham said that recycling through the VolCat process can save between 40% and 90% of embedded energy in plastics and save money, as well. However, he noted that “most recycling today is downcycling — there’s very little financial motivation.” Beckham, one of the primary authors of the paper on this process, added: “Knowing that 26 million tons of PET are produced each year but only 30% of PET bottles are recycled in the United States, our findings represent a significant advancement in enabling the circular materials economy.”

“We can’t demonize plastics” he added, because they have contributed many benefits to society. But the fact is that “many countries don’t have the infrastructure to deal with plastic waste,” said Beckham.

Austria-based Borealis announced in March that it has started to produce polypropylene (PP) based on Neste-produced renewable feedstock in its production facilities in Kallo and Beringen, Belgium. This marks the first time that Borealis has replaced fossil fuel–based feedstock in its large-scale commercial production of PP. Neste in Helsinki claims to be the “world’s largest producer of renewable diesel refined from waste and residues,” introducing renewable solutions to the aviation and plastics industries.

Borealis-Neste collaboration
Borealis and Neste have entered into a strategic partnership to produce renewable polypropylene and accelerate the circular economy in plastics. Image courtesy Borealis.

Borealis, furthering its “EverMinds” ambition, will replace fossil fuel-based feedstock at its plants, which were recently recognized by the International Sustainability and Carbon Certification (ISCC) organization. The venture in sustainable production is being driven in close collaboration with upstream and downstream value-chain partners such as Neste and Henkel. Henkel, a global market leader in the adhesives sector, is committed to working with its value-chain partners to drive sustainable packaging strategy solutions, including renewable PP content in the packaging of a major Henkel brand over the course of the year in its efforts to reduce use of fossil fuel-based virgin plastics by 50% by 2025.

Last summer, Neste and Belgium-based Ravago Recycling Group, a distributor and recycler of polymers, joined forces to develop chemical recycling of plastic waste with the aim to reach significant industrial scale. The companies have set a joint target to reach an annual capacity to process over 200,000 tons of waste plastic.

“At Ravago, we carry the waste issue to heart,” said CEO Theo Roussis. “Our company has been mechanically recycling polymers for nearly 60 years; however, chemical recycling should be part of a sustainable solution that our society requires today to address the growing need for valorizing consumer waste. [Renewables] provide a solid foundation to enable the different nascent technologies to mature and the broader industry to take off.”

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