Attero commits to increasing the recycling of plastic film

13/05/2022

Environmental company Attero offers sustainable solutions for waste flows from homes, companies and governmental organisations. The company has been recovering and reusing energy and raw materials from waste for ninety years. Together with a variety of chain partners, Attero is now taking a closer look at the opportunities for recycling plastic packaging waste. The partners have joined forces in the ProLiFeX project, which is intended to demonstrate the technical feasibility of a closed plastic film chain. EGEN took care of the grant application for this project, and remains involved in its implementation. Results are expected sometime during 2022.

Less new film, more recycled film

Up to 30 to 40 percent of household plastic waste consists of various types of plastic film. Because the recycling of plastic film is a highly complex process, almost all new film packaging is made from virgin plastic. Under the auspices of the ProLiFeX project, a consortium consisting of six chain partners – Attero, TUSTI, TU Eindhoven, Dow Benelux, Oerlemans Packaging and Pokon Naturado – will be investigating the possibilities for achieving a closed plastic film chain. This should lead to a decreased demand for new plastic film, and thus to a smaller CO2 footprint for film packaging. ProLiFeX stands for ‘Post-consumer Recycling of L(L)DPE in Flexible Extrusion’. LDPE and LLDPE are the ‘soft’ versions of polyethylene from which the films are made.

From granulate to potting mix packaging

Attero supplies the raw materials for the project. Contaminated plastic household waste arrives here and is washed, after which additives supplied by chemical company Dow Benelux are added. The plastic is then processed into plastic granules. Knowledge partners TUSTI and TU Eindhoven are involved in this process in order to ensure and optimise the quality of the granulate. The next link in the chain is Oerlemans Packaging, which uses the granulate as the raw material for film production. The recycled film is already being used in a range of products, such as rubbish bags, tubes, buckets and sheeting. The ultimate aim is to produce a film of sufficient quality and strength to be used for packaging Pokon Naturado products, such as potting mix, compost and fertilisers.

Working towards acceptance

Berry Bellert, plastics expert at Attero, explains that this is not simply a technical process. ‘Naturally, we’d like to remove the technical obstacles first – after all, we need to be able to produce a raw material with the right degree of strength and resistance. That’s mainly a matter of testing and fine-tuning. However, there’s more at stake – specifically, the acceptance of a recycled product as a replacement for a new product. And this acceptance is trickier than you’d think. Marketing appears to have a much greater influence on sales than the purely technical aspects. Smooth, glossy packaging always sells better than packaging that is produced more sustainably, but that isn’t so smooth or perhaps even contains imperfections. And it’s this acceptance – the way of looking at a product – that we need to work on.’

Initiator and process controller

EGEN was able to secure a grant for the ProLiFeX project from the Joint Industry Projects (JIP) scheme, which is part of the Top Sector Energy programme. Since then, EGEN consultants have focused mainly on process and information management within the project. They also ensure that the consortium meets its performance obligations to the granting body. Berry Bellert: ‘I see EGEN mainly playing the role of initiator and process controller. This enables us as consortium members to stay on top of things. The great thing is, we don’t have to worry about the organisational and administrative aspects of the project, because the people at EGEN are taking care of all that.’

Significant progress

With the knowledge that they gain from the project, the consortium partners expect to make significant progress towards achieving a closed plastic film chain upon completion. Large-scale production of recycled film will then be within easy reach for the whole industry. ‘If acceptance is also no longer an obstacle by then, we will be justified in saying that the project has succeeded,’ says Berry Bellert.

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