27 May 2020

European project makes plastics production circular

By developing solutions covering the full plastic value chain - from design to recycling - the project CIRC-PACK, funded by the European Commission's Horizon 2020 framework, has proven the feasibility of making the plastics industry circular in a consumer-friendly way.

The CIRC-PACK project has succeeded in achieving its objectives: developing alternative biodegradable and compostable biomaterials and recyclable bio-based plastic, producing eco-designed formats to replace the non-recyclable multilayer and multi-material packaging, while enhancing sorting and recycling processes.

The introduction of innovations produced into the market may help the European Union (EU) reach its high ambitions to make all plastic products reusable or recyclable by 2030. These are the main results of this EU-funded project that spent the past three years developing this range of sustainable plastic applications.

The consortium, consisting of 22 partners from the EU and led by Fundación CIRCE of Spain, has developed and tested the three different aspects of the plastics value chain: production, design and recycling, and the conclusions are positive.

“The design stage is crucial for the pursuit of sustainable packaging value chain. Several actions aimed at reducing the overall impact of plastics and plastic packaging have been taken, such as the use of renewable raw materials for bioplastic production,” said the project’s coordinator, Aitana Sáez de Guinoa Vilaplana from CIRCE.

“The compostability feature can definitively minimise the end-of-life impact of certain formats which today are hardly recyclable. Keeping materials in a loop and improving recycling processes are some of the key achievements of the project, applicable to a wide type of sectors beyond the packaging sector.”

CIRC-PACK partners worked on three different demo cases. The first one developed, tested and proved a range of biodegradable and compostable biomaterial formulations with a high content of renewable sources. The innovations included, amongst others, coffee capsules, carrier bags with high printability and resistance, and food trays which maintain shape under thermal and mechanical stress.

The second demo case proved the feasibility of producing sustainable and eco-friendly multilayer and multimaterial packaging without a loss in consumer satisfaction. Materials developed include a film for fresh product trays and packaging for detergent powder. For the multilayer film, all components decompose in the same conditions in an industrial composting process. For the multimaterial box, all components are recyclable in a paper recycling process.

The third demo case found new ways to increase the overall recyclability of plastic through technology and methodology updates. For instance, CIRC-PACK generated new pieces of plastic products using recycled plastic from different waste origins.

Approval from consumers

CIRC-PACK developed eco-friendly packaging alternatives for several products using renewable and compostable plastics products. CIRC-PACK testing proves that the consumers have appreciated the bioproducts.

In-person tests conducted with consumers in six European countries – Belgium, Turkey, Portugal, Spain, Italy and Croatia – proved the public not only accepts the new bio-plastic products but, in some cases, even prefers them. Many of the CIRC-PACK products were preferred by consumers based on characteristics such as appearance, ease of use and resistance.

“Consumer satisfaction is key to improving the use of renewable or reusable plastics and, therefore, the product quality has to be of a very high level. In CIRC-PACK, working with industrial partners, we have proven how to produce these products in a way that is both market-ready and sustainable,” Aitana Sáez de Guinoa Vilaplana highlighted.

14 May 2020

Coronacrisis could increase plastic pollution

Italy is preparing for the next phase in its battle against COVID-19. Over the next few months, it will gradually ease lockdown restrictions. The Polytechnic University of Turin has estimated that during this period the country will need 1 billion masks and 500 million gloves per month. If only 1% of those masks are incorrectly disposed, the environment would have to deal with 40,000 of extra plastic pollution per month.

Italy is, of course, not the only country facing this challenge. Globally, most of the personal protective equipment (PPE) used to protect citizens and healthcare workers is single-use. Moreover, much of it is hard to recycle. Euronews notes, for example, that masks imported from China consist of multiple layers of different materials, making recycling much more complex. Mike Bilodeau, regional director of PlasticOceans in Europe, has argued that PPE should be produced locally and in a way that it can easily be recycled and reused. That means producing PPE out of a single polymer, so they can be traceable and collected in sealed disposable bins, where they can be disinfected and recycled. Currently, this is only happening on a very small scale, through local cooperations between NGO’s, researchers and regional institutions. 

Our reliance on single-use PPE has also been noticed by the European plastics industry. In a letter to Ursula van der Leyen, trade association European Plastics Converters noted that it “would like to draw the attention of the benefits of plastic to the benefits of plastic products and in particular single-use applications during the difficult times we are experiencing at this moment in history.” In light of that EPC asks the President of the European Commission to “inform all Member States of the postponement of the deadline for the implementation of the single-use plastic (SUP) Directive for at least an additional year and to lift all bans on some of the single-use plastic items.”

The SUP Directive, adopted last year by the European Commission, introduced an EU-ban on certain single-use plastic items, with the aim to reduce marine litter, 80% of which comes from land. According to the EPC, the free circulation of these goods is now crucial for health and safety reasons. These arguments were rejected by the EC, noting that the SUP Directive already foresees exceptions for medical devices. Furthermore Vivian Loonela, the EU Commission spokesperson for environmental issues, stated that "in the current circumstances, where many essential economic activities, including waste management are under pressure, it is even more important to continue the overall efforts to reduce waste." She also noted that it is currently too early to assess the impact of COVID-19 on the amount of plastic waste that will be generated in 2020.


11 May 2020

New Online tool to improve circular ecodesign

A new tool has just been launched by CIRC-PACK allowing producers of packaging (plastic and cardboard) to assess its recyclability and circular economy-related indicators.

Developed by Spanish Research Centre CIRCE as part of the EU-funded project CIRC-PACK, the new online tool allows those working on packaging to input their product data and receive a sustainability evaluation across a number of ecodesign measures – which span different stages of the lifecycle – to improve the sustainability performance of each product.

Aitana Sáez de Guinoa Vilaplana, Technology Project Manager at CIRCE and CIRC-PACK coordinator, explains:

“Based on the work we have done in CIRC-PACK to develop and test more circular packaging applications, we built this tool allowing others to do the same. By inputting different data on the specific format a developer is working on, the tool is able to suggest possible ways to improve performance and sustainability, fostering the implementation of eco-design strategies. The tool makes it possible to have feedback easily and free of cost,” she says.

The different indicators for each product include materials used, composition, size, weight and questions on the design and manufacturing process.

You can test the new tool on or learn more about it on the Horizon Results Platform under the result: ‘Circular packaging ecodesign assessment tool