Mixed plastic waste - sorting and recycling processes.
While for homogeneous plastics waste as PET bottles or HDPE containers the main destination is recycling, for mixed plastic waste (e.g., mix 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, small tanks) or in flexible form (e.g., film, multiwall) and they can be single-layer/single-plastic (e.g., polyethylene or polypropylene) or multilayer (e.g., polyethylene + polyethylene terephthalate). These are the reasons why sorting and recycling are very complicated.
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 Clients, has developed a new integrated contract for sorting and recycling of mixed plastics.
Generally, for homogeneous plastics, it’s not necessary to make an integrated sorting/recycling contract, because these plastics can be recycled without difficulty. For mixed plastics, as mentioned above, the road is much more complex; It was therefore necessary to develop this innovative contract with the aim of involving parties who had high skills in sorting+recycling and who knew very well the market for recycled products with low added value.
COREPLA is the Italian Consortium for the Collection and Recycling of Plastic packaging.
Due the low value chain of mixed plastics an economical contribution is needed. Economic contributions are variable and depend on various factors: quality of mixed plastic, quantities treated, market conditions.
Due to the above factors, there aren’t any pre-established economic contributions.
Evidence of success
Without the approach adopted by COREPLA, the plastics packaging recycling share would have been lower. In 2017, mixed plastic 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.
Thanks to this development, it has been possible to increase the quantities of plastics sent to recycling.
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).