4 October 2018

CIRC-PACK Progress Report – what’s the latest?

At the half-way stage in the CIRC-PACK project, we’ve (base line) analysed the current state of our different value chains – in terms of environmental impact, economic costs, social impacts and circularity. Here are the key points so far.

When it comes to packaged products such as powder detergent, liquid soap, chicken and coffee, the main contribution to the environmental impact of these products is the product itself, i.e. the actual environmental impact of chicken and coffee packaging remains very low. However, packaging for powdered detergent accounts for some 40% of environmental impact.

In terms of value chain circularity, CIRC-PACK notes that at present, most of these products have a very high degree of linearity due to an almost inexistent level of recycled material used as raw materials for the packaging. Recycled cardboard for packaging is a notable exception. As for laminated cardboard packs, these are not recycled due to the oft-noted difficulty of separating plastic layer from cardboard.

The problem with plastic bags

According to European Commission analyses, the recovery rates for another CIRC-PACK target product, plastic bags, remains stubbornly low. Moreover, when these are landfilled, such non-collected materials contribute significantly to ecotoxicity indicators.

In terms of environmental impact, the main factors here are both the raw materials themselves and the electricity used during the manufacturing process. CIRC-PACK notes that recycled materials can reduce the impact in two notable ways: 1. when plastic waste is used to manufacture the recycled materials, both waste treatment and landfill impacts are reduced, and 2. the manufacturing of bags will of course use less virgin polymers.

Our analyses of the circularity of bags reveal both positives and negatives. On the one hand, the use of recycled materials in their composition is in the order of 50%. However, end user collection rates remain very low. Thicker bags may be reused several times and therefore extend the product’s utility by carrying heavier loads than thinner bags – thus increasing the circularity of the material by two.

Addressing automotives

In our analyses of a third CIRC-PACK target product, automotive components, the consortium confirms that the environmental impact of recycling is indeed lower than incineration or landfill in most of the indicators used. However, indicators for ozone depletion, ionising radiation and eutrophication show a higher environmental impact for recycling because of the electricity used for the recycling process. Notwithstanding, in applying a monetarisation procedure to obtain overall environmental cost, recycling scenarios come out on top from an environmental perspective. Where automotive components are concerned, recycling such materials will require new skilled positions in the future – so aside from requiring the development of tailored training programmes, this may well add extra value to the CIRC-PACK project and to the European economy if and when replicated. With automotive components, the challenge for CIRC-PACK is rather to innovative towards increased circularity for these products.