Sustainability Blog

Circularity of Hard-to-recycle Plastics

By George Gill - Apr 08, 2022

Common obstacles to the circularity of plastic recycling are processing hard-to-recycle material, producing something from the recycled waste that can go into new plastic products and achieving that without having to create large recycling facilities from scratch. Meeting these needs is the goal of a waste plastic recycling machine under development by technology company Sumitomo SHI FW and Recycling Technologies, a chemical recycler of plastic.

Annual plastics production is heading toward 400 million metric tons, up from 2 million tons in the 1950s. This produces more than 300 million tons of waste, much of it difficult to process back into useful material. Every stage of plastics production creates greenhouse gases, and so improving the circularity of hard-to-recycle plastics could reduce the carbon footprint of virgin plastics.

The companies announced on March 24 their collaboration on development of technology and manufacturing of United Kingdom-based Recycling Technologies’ advanced waste plastic recycling machine, the RT7000. The machine turns hard-to-recycle plastic, such as films, bags and laminated plastics, into a hydrocarbon feedstock, called Plaxx, which can be used in new plastic production. According to the companies, “the RT7000 machine is modular and small-scale, designed to fit easily onto existing waste treatment and recycling sites, providing a scalable solution to recycling waste plastic anywhere in the world.”

The machine uses a process called thermal cracking, which breaks down the long chains of polymers into shorter chains through the use of heat in the absence of oxygen, RT explains on its website. The RT7000 can process most types of plastic that are not routinely recycled, such as soft and flexible packaging, multi-layered and laminated plastics and complex or even contaminated plastic, such as food trays. This is a far wider variety of plastics than can be recycled through current methods, according to RT.

RT explained that the R7000’s Plaxx feedstock is not intended to be a fuel. “It is a valuable chemical feedstock which, after refinement, can be used in the manufacturing of new virgin quality plastic,” the company said on its website. “It is a valuable building block in the circular economy and the plastics value chain, providing post-consumer recycled content for new plastic products in line with governmental targets.”

The collaboration between the two companies includes several aspects. A manufacturing partnership for the RT7000 could meet RT’s ambition to mass-produce about 200 machines per year by 2029. The developers expect that harnessing their combined engineering expertise will improve the RT7000’s efficiency and yields, lower its carbon footprint to chemically recycle waste plastic and reduce manufacturing costs. SFW’s global footprint is expected to assist worldwide sales of the RT7000. Plans also call for incorporating the RT7000 into SFW’s waste to energy plant as an optional alternative to recover plastic streams that were previously incinerated.

“The global plastic production is predicted to increase to one billion tons [per year] by 2050, and we believe that chemical recycling will have an important role in making this more circular,” Frank Ligthart, vice president for strategic business development, waste to value, said in a press release. “The collaboration with RT supports SFW’s strategy to become part of this development, and we are looking forward to working with RT on these issues.” 

Adrian Griffiths, CEO of Recycling Technologies, noted the collaboration represents an important milestone in RT’s strategy to mass produce its RT7000 machines, reduce their manufacturing costs, improve their efficiency and expand their global marketing and sales channels. “These steps will speed up our goal to make plastic more sustainable through innovation, technology and determination,” Griffiths said.

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