Prodded by the European Commission, polymer makers and consumer products companies are tackling notoriously hard-to-recycle plastics. Polyolefin maker Borealis is collaborating with Henkel and others to recycle multilayer packaging. And the French oil giant Total is working with construction materials supplier Saint-Gobain to recycle polystyrene.
Multilayer packaging is made out of layers of polyethylene and other materials and is difficult to separate into clean streams suitable for reprocessing. Borealis, Henkel, the German recycling firm APK, and the packaging company Mondi think they have an answer.
APK will apply its Newcycling solvent-based system for separating the layers. Mondi is testing flexible pouches made from low-density polyethylene that comes from APK’s process. The plan is to commercialize a pouch for Henkel’s Persil detergent pods early next year.
Total, meanwhile, is collaborating with Saint-Gobain, the sustainability nonprofit Citeo, and the French dairy products association Syndifrais to study the feasibility of recycling polystyrene, which Total makes.
The light weight of polystyrene, especially foam polystyrene, makes it challenging to collect and recycle economically.
Total has already tested producing polystyrene that contains 20% postconsumer resin. It will now evaluate large-scale production with the aim of turning out 4,000 metric tons of the material next year. Saint-Gobain will acquire recycled polystyrene, such as from building materials.
Europe is trying to make its economy more circular. In January, the European Commission announced a goal of boosting plastic packaging recycling rates to 55%. Then in May, it proposed bans on single-use items like straws and cotton swabs.
Clarissa Morawski, managing director of the circular economy organization Reloop Platform, says China’s ban on imports of postconsumer plastic waste and growing public outrage over the impact of plastic on marine life have created a tipping point.
“This trend has been sitting on the surface waiting to explode. And I believe this European circular economy package has pushed it,” Morawski says. “It has sent a signal to the brand owners and their suppliers that things are changing.”