RESPECT: Development of Sustainable Recycling Processes for the Plastics Industry

The RESPECT project seeks to develop new technologies for the recovery and valorisation of complex plastic waste by combining both mechanical and chemical recycling techniques, with the aim of promoting a more circular model in the plastics industry. 

Mireia Fernández, Chemical Recycling Researcher at AIMPLAS

Plastics are materials that play an important role in our daily lives. They are widely used in many sectors and applications, and at the end of their service life they become waste that requires appropriate management.

Given the constant increase in the consumption of plastic materials and the consequent production of large quantities of waste plastics, the European Commission has set more demanding targets to address this problem, in the quest for a more circular model in both industry and society. The aim is to keep resources in the production system and reduce dependency on raw materials of non-renewable origin.

Although the quantity of post-consumer plastic waste landfilled has fallen by 44% since 2006, 996 million kg (38.8% of total post-consumer plastic waste) ended up in landfills in 2018.1

Textile waste is amongst least treated plastic waste streams and, therefore, tends to end up in landfills. One of the main reasons why this type of waste is not currently recovered, apart from collection and sorting issues, is its high complexity in terms of variety of composition, which makes it difficult to recycle mechanically. It is, therefore, necessary to develop suitable, alternative recycling methodologies to facilitate the recovery of this type of waste.

The RESPECT project – Development of Sustainable Recycling Processes for the Plastics Industry is being carried out within this context. The project is funded by the Instituto Valenciano de la Competitividad Empresarial (Valencian Institute of Business Competitiveness – IVACE), under grant agreement number IMDEEA/2020/67.

The RESPECT solution

The RESPECT Project seeks to develop new technologies for the recovery and valorisation of complex plastic waste, including textile waste, by combining both mechanical and chemical recycling techniques. 

This project, scheduled to end next June, aims to develop new processes for the separation and recovery of complex plastic waste within the framework of the circular economy, so that these processes can be disseminated and transferred to the plastics industry of the Autonomous Community of Valencia in order to reinforce the competitiveness and circularity of the business sector.

For this purpose, separation tests were carried out on a real textile waste stream with the aim of detecting and separating the waste according to its composition in order to facilitate subsequent recycling. Amongst other techniques, this process featured physical separation based on the continuous automatic identification, detection and sorting of materials using near infrared spectroscopy (NIR) technology. This enabled separation efficiencies of almost 60% for garments made of polyamide (PA) and 80% for those made of polyester.

References:

1 Plastic Europe (2020). Plastics – the Facts 2020. An analysis of European plastics production, demand, and waste data.

Published in: Nº78 FuturENVIRO March – April 2021