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Plasticircle: The EU's next big thing?

The European Commission is funding a hugely ambitious project in plastic waste management, by bringing in plans to develop the EU into a completely circular economy in the future. PlastiCircle is the project’s name, and it is setting out to improve waste collection, transport, sorting and recycling. Spain, the Netherlands and Romania are going to be the three communities who can benefit from this change first.

In the European Union currently, more than 25 million tonnes of plastic waste are created yearly- and a miniscule amount of this waste is actually recycled (less than a third!). The remaining amount of the waste is sent to landfill sites around Europe- which currently wastes resources, time, energy and money.

The European Commission’s goal is clear-cut and fruitful. Work towards the reduction of plastic pollution, reduce CO2 emissions, keep already existent plastic through recycling, and create jobs for this brand-new circular economy. The materials that are created are reused perpetually, and this requires workers.

This is a huge plan, so the rollout is going to take place in three cities at first: Valencia, Spain, Utrecht, the Netherlands, and Alba Iulia, Romania. These are all very different places, which is a great way to get a good scope on how different cultures will react to these changes.

The project aims to work on, in their own words:

 

Collection

“Development of an innovative collection system able to identify the quantity and quality of packaging deposited in the containers and to automatically inform waste transport companies. “

 

Transport

“Optimisation of the transport process for packaging waste from urban containers to sorting plants, decreasing the final price of recovered plastic by saving fuel and transport costs.”

With the use of a new cloud platform for optimisation, and perfected collection routes, transport for collections are saving time, money, and CO2 emissions.

 

Sorting

“Improvement of sorting technologies to achieve a better separation of different types of plastic in treatment plants, including multilayer and multi-material packaging.”

 

Recycling

“Development and validation of added-value products from plastic packaging waste – leading to a better valorisation of recycled materials and a range of products for the market.”

 

This rollout is being taken on slowly, starting in the almost 10,000 resident Sant Marcellí, València, before moving to Utrecht and Alba Lulia in September. This seemed like an ideal place to begin testing this new way of life, as it’s not only one of the most densely populated areas of Valencia, but houses a huge range of demographics, and also has a very active residents’ association. This means the EU will get a good look at how Plasticircle would work Union-wide, and can gather feedback at a convenient speed.

The way they work out numbers is by advising people to sign up for a personal “citizen card”, which can be scanned at 25 bins in the test area. After reading, the container lid will be unlocked, and the container will print out a unique label, which the user will stick on the bin bag before throwing away their waste. The label will identify the user, and the label will be used to reward them for their recycling with multiple incentives provided by the neighbourhood’s government. These rewards scale depending on quantity and quality of waste.

Project co-ordinator César Aliaga, of the Spanish technology centre ITENE, has explained the pure ambition of the project, by asking people to disregard the current recycling rates in Europe- as this arguably wasn’t thought possible:

“To give you an idea, in countries such as Spain and Romania, plastic packaging collection rates are 75% and 59% respectively. With PlastiCircle, we want to increase this to 87%. For waste transportation we specifically want to increase the filling levels in the containers, and of course reduce fuel consumption by the vehicles. This makes for a more economically viable way of doing things.”

“PlastiCircle has the target of reducing material losses in sorting to less than 20%– whereas the average in Europe today is 25%,” he states.

“We also aim to improve precision in sorting to more than 95% – something which Europe isn’t achieving at the moment.”

Aliaga has admitted that this new “PlastiCircle approach” will have problems that must be solved. The first of these being issues with the labels not printing correctly, but that has already been fixed. There’s always going to be growing pains when starting something, especially something this big. If the team working on this can act this quickly with every problem, it’ll go just fine.

“It is also a real challenge getting the entire plastics value chain to work together,” explains Aliaga, “including waste managers, recycling companies, citizens, plastic manufacturers, researchers, cities and so forth. But the results until now are very promising and I am confident that this approach will be implemented in the EU in the following years.”

 

The success of Plasticircle will be judged very soon, with the people working on the project releasing a statement on their website:

“On 16 May 2019, PlastiCircle and ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability will host a special conference on the circularity of plastics in European cities. The conference – through panel sessions and interactive parallel workshops – will gather multiple stakeholders to assess the challenge of a circular economy for plastics, and the innovations which aim to tackle plastic waste in Europe’s urban areas. The event welcomes policy makers at national and EU levels, cities, civil society, business, Horizon 2020 projects and academia, all sharing solutions and networking for better mutual understanding of the challenges of the day. Business, European institutions and circular economy experts will all be there to see firsthand how PlastiCircle is leading the way in innovations for the plastic packaging value chain.”

With the Utrecht and Alba Iulia pilots still upcoming this year, PlastiCircle has all the potential to be a real positive change in the world. We’ll see what happens!

 

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