1 October 2018

‘First Trials and Testing for CIRC-PACK’ – Q&A with CIRCE’s Montserrat Lanero

With the half-way mark fast approaching for the CIRC-PACK project, CIRCPACK.EU spoke to project manager Montserrat Lanero of CIRCE to update us on the latest news, and the big challenges bringing CIRC-PACK innovations into the mainstream as Europe confronts its circular economy agenda.

In a nutshell, can you remind us what CIRC-PACK set out to achieve?

At its heart, this project aims to transform the plastic packaging value chain from a ‘linear’ to a ‘circular’ value chain. That’s why we are applying a number of innovations along the value chain throughout the project -  addressing the decoupling of materials from fossil-based feedstocks, the reduction of environmental impact, and of course the creation of an effective after-use economy. We are also focusing on the design of the plastic products – mainly packaging products – in order to make them easier to sort and recycle. In this way, we can increase the recovery of plastic waste and reduce the quantity of plastics that go to landfill. This is of course very much in keeping with European Union circular economy objectives – and throughout the project we are keeping abreast of every EU recommendation in this area, in addition to asking our colleagues in the institutions for feedback regarding project developments.

What do you mean by innovations? What’s new about this project?

We want to replace polymers that are based on fossil resources with bio-based polymers. We will also try to create packaging that is biodegradable. CIRC-PACK will also generate products for applications that cover sectors other than food packaging – sectors such as automotives and hygienic products. Furthermore, the CIRC-PACK project also involves packaging composed of cardboard. And of course we’ll try to improve the very design of the packaging so that it will be better suited for collection. All of this involves extensive collaboration with all stakeholders in the value chain, and of course new business models that make it easier to evaluate the ways we use plastic waste.

How is this a ‘win’ for Europe as a whole?

Through the use of bio-based products we can decouple the plastic sector from fossil resources. In this way we can contribute to a circular economy and a greener economy in general, as well as to overall decarbonisation. Also, with collaboration among actors in the plastic packaging value chain, we can increase resource productivity. And as we design and produce our value-added materials (and even more conventional items), we’ll be reducing the volume of plastic waste that goes to landfill, thus increasing recycling rates. You see, the innovations developed in this project could be applied in every sector that involves plastic, not just packaging. For example, electronic appliances and construction!

We are nearly half way through the CIRC-PACK project. What is the latest?

I can confirm that we have developed an evaluation methodology to assess the economic, social and environmental impact of each the innovations in the value chain. This has been conducted by CIRCE. Crucially, we are also performing our first trials in order to check that our materials are of the necessary quality to create new packaging products. This quality testing is vital to the project. And of course at the end of the trials we will have our first prototypes of a range of different bio-based products. But we are also involving European consumers in this process – this from the outset of the project. When CIRC-PACK started, we were clear that we had to know consumers’ expectations of our products, and also to assess their knowledge of the impact of these products – environmental or otherwise! So we will be comparing our baseline scenario of consumer expectations, with new reactions to the products being tested right now.

At this crucial time, what are the big challenges you have faced?

The main problem for the CIRC-PACK project is the lack of lack of homogeneity. By that I mean that the rules of the game are different in every country: plastic waste collection is different, and the separation of waste is different in every country we work in. So it is difficult to provide recommendations that are currently applicable in every country. In reality, countries are at different stages. For example, in two municipalities in the CIRC-PACK consortium, Rijeka in Croatia and Kartal in Turkey, as yet waste separation practices are not as advanced as in other municipalities. To address this long-term, we would like to provide achievable recommendations so that these municipalities can increase recovery rates. The same goes for awareness of the environmental impact of plastic packaging. This is something we are doing at a European level, for everyone. And finally there was always the risk that the trials didn’t yield the desired results or quality. But in short, we have actually achieved what we wanted and we can continue our progress on a sound footing.

You mention local authorities such as Rijeka and Kartal. How do towns and cities stand to benefit from this project?

In terms of the environmental impact of plastic packaging, we believe that CIRC-PACK can really increase awareness among consumers in Europe’s towns and cities, but also among local authorities and public administrations. These actors could certainly benefit from project recommendations and enhance their current policies on plastic packaging. And of course we may have local authorities with low plastic waste recovery rates. This is an issue. But we can help them through knowledge transfer to improve recovery rates.

Finally, how will the European consumer benefit from CIRC-PACK innovations?

We will increase their awareness of the environmental impact of plastic packaging so we can reduce the impact of these materials. But crucially, through our innovations, consumers will be avoiding the use of non-renewable materials. With CIRC-PACK, we have been collaborating with consumers from the beginning to take into account their expectations of future products, and what they want to see from us and other actors in the  ‘lower impact’ packaging market. In the end, we will have more useful materials, and better quality materials. This is key for consumers and the environment.


25 July 2018

Spain Forges Ahead With Charges On Light Plastic Carrier Bags

As of 1 July 2018, businesses in Spain are now required by law to charge between 5 and 15 euro cents per light plastic carrier bag used by consumers, in a move designed to reduce the country’s generation of plastic waste and raise awareness of the considerable challenge which plastics pose to society.

The news this month that Spain has implemented a ban on the free distribution of light plastic carrier bags has been welcomed across Europe, as Spain forges ahead with a series of short-term and longer-term proposals to alleviate the burden of single-use plastics and plastic pollution in general.

Confirmed by the Spanish Ministry of Agriculture and Environment, from 1 July 2018, Spanish shops have been required to charge clients between 5 and 15 euro cents per light plastic bag (with the charge depending on the weight of the bag).

It should be noted that ultra-light plastic bags and thicker, recyclable bags are exempt from this charge, although according to Spanish consumer organisation and CIRC-PACK partner OCU, a total ban on light and ultra- light bags that are not compostable will come into force in January of 2021.

In a press communiqué, the Ministry of Agriculture and Environment said: “This is a first step towards freeing our environment of plastic waste and towards raising awareness among consumers of the need to reduce our use of plastic bags.”

The Ministry said that steps were being taken at a national level to raise levels of recycling and re-use, as well as to promote the generation of "quality recycled plastic”.

The new legislation is just the first step in Spain’s roadmap for plastics set out under the draft Spanish Circular Economy Strategy.

According to OCU, there are three broad categories of plastic bags in circulation:

Ultra-light bags (under 15 microns thick) are used for fresh or bulk produce such as fruit, meat or fish (and are exempt from charges under the current system); light plastic bags (up to 50 microns thick) which are now subject to charges in shops and businesses, and; the thicker plastic bags of more than 50 microns.

Come 2021, the ban on ultra-light and light plastic bags which aren’t compostable will place Spain among the leading economies in Europe for plastics legislation.

In Europe, of the 27 million tones of plastic waste produced each year, only around 9 million tones are recycled. Moreover, according to CIRC-PACK partner CIRCE, some 89% of plastic bags are only used once and in any case, typically take between 100 and 500 years to decompose – a burden on both society and the environment.

16 July 2018

European Sustainable Plastics Congress Gets The Latest On CIRC-PACK

The CIRC-PACK project was featured for an international audience this month, at the first European Sustainable Plastics Congress in Lyon, France. Organised by France’s Plastipolis on 5 July 2018, the congress heard firsthand how CIRC-PACK innovations are shaping up.

CIRC-PACK’s innovative waste to resource approach was featured for an international scientific and industry audience in Lyon, France, at a new plastics congress organised by Plastipolis.

Held in partnership with the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region, the Lyon event was the first of its kind, and is set to focus on European sustainable plastics for the foreseeable future.

The CIRC-PACK project was presented by David Zambrana of CIRCE, as he focused on a new circular economy for the plastic packaging sector. Further presentations on CIRC-PACK were made by Alessandro d’Elicio of Italy’s Novamont and Ana Mafalda Gomes of Bumaga in the Netherlands. Here the congress heard firsthand the concepts behind CIRC-PACK’s first two ‘demo cases’: producing plastics from renewable resources, and eco-friendly packaging designs.

More news on CIRC-PACK is available on this website and via Twitter @circ_economy.

1 June 2018

The CIRC-PACK Consortium Hosted by Novamont in Novara, Italy

On 23-24 May 2018, the CIRC-PACK project consortium held a general partner meeting in Novara, Italy. The group gathered at the research lab of project partner Novamont to drive forward the CIRC-PACK project and continue the momentum built up during the first year of the initiative, as well as undertaking a research visit of the Novamont facilities.

For a Horizon 2020 project such as CIRC-PACK, partner meetings offer an excellent opportunity to consolidate work conducted by the partners and align future objectives among the project “work packages”. However, this visit to Novara also provided invaluable insights into Novamont’s research and development in the fields of bio-based plastics and biodegradable plastics for a range of products for end users.

The site visit allowed all CIRC-PACK partners to see firsthand the cutting edge developments which can contribute to a circular economy for plastic packaging in the future!