Mixed plastic waste - sorting and recycling processes.
While for homogeneous plastics waste (e.g. PET bottles, HDPE bottles) the main destination is recycling, for mixed plastic waste (e.g. mixtures of two or more plastics), at the state of the art, the main destination is energy recovery because recycling is very complex in technical and economic terms.
You can find mixed plastics waste in rigid form (e.g. trays) or in flexible form. For the last one, they can be found in single-layer (e.g. polyethylene or polypropylene) or in multilayer (e.g. polyethylene + polyethylene terephthalate) that’s why sorting and recycling phases are very complex.
To increase the value of mixed plastics, in agreement with the EU waste management hierarchy, it is necessary to move them from energy recovery to recycling. To do this COREPLA, with its Suppliers (sorting centers) and its Customers, has developed a new integrated contract for sorting and recycling of mixed plastics. Thanks to this development, it has been possible to increase the quantities of plastics waste sent to recycling, with a sensible trade off from energy recovery to recycling.
Companies with this type of contract developed by COREPLA, included in step 3.1, are pioneers in the plastic waste recycling sector.
Given the value chain a contribution in needed both for sorting and for recycling processes plants. The contributions are variable and depend on the types of mixed plastic (e.g. with a high presence of non-plastic materials), polymer mix, quantities treated, logistics and on market conditions.
Evidence of success
Without the approach adopted by COREPLA, the plastics packaging recycling share would have been lower. In 2017, mixed plastic waste sent to recycling was about 12% of the plastic packaging waste collected in Italy (about 980 tons).
In particular, COREPLA, with its industrial partners, has recycled 120 ktonnes of mixed plastic waste over a total 560 ktonnes of recycled plastic waste in 2017.
The challenges are both technical (tecnology is stil developing on mixed plastics) and economical (energy intensive processes and secondary raw material low value).
Potential for learning or transfer
Italy is a forerunner on mixed plastics wastes from separate collection and recycling of this kind of waste started much before many European countries. Nevertheless, all European countries are now facing these challenges and developing new Technologies so there is a lot of potential both for Learning and Transfer.
The approach implemented by COREPLA can be replicated in all European countries. In this way several quantities of mixed plastics can be moved from energy recovery to recycling. However, the support of public administrations is essential in order to promote these solutions (e.g. new calls for the creation of innovative sorting and recycling plants, support for the market for the use of recycled plastics).