The efficient large-scale recycling of plastic waste is of increasing interest from an ecological and economic point of view but it represents a goal that has yet to be achieved by the recycling industry. The W2Plastics project aims to fundamentally change the present status of plastics recycling by creating a breakthrough technology for the recycling of polyolefins from complex wastes, such as Waste from Electric and Electronic Equipment (WEEE), Construction and Demolition Waste (CDW), and household waste and Automotive Shredder Residue (ASR). Polyolefins are a very important group of polymers, constituting more than a third of total plastics consumption in Europe (EU), and complex wastes provide the largest, presently unused potential resource of secondary polyolefins.
Despite this, only a small percentage of polyolefins (PP, LDPE, HDPE) sold annually in the EU is recycled. Nowadays, polyolefin recyclers focus mainly on the relatively pure post-industrial or single-product wastes, since these can be made into high-purity product materials with existing and cost-effective process technology. Post-industrial wastes are increasingly exported outside the EU, however, and so the polyolefin recycling industry and their end-users are forced to seek out alternative resources. In principle, post-consumer wastes, such as WEEE, CDW, household waste and ASR provide such a resource. They comprise a reservoir of polyolefins that is five to ten times larger than post-industrial wastes, but these wastes are also much more complex mixtures of materials and hence much more difficult to recycle. Technologies to address these resources need to be extremely powerful, since they must be relatively simple to be cost-effective. Moreover, to be economical they must also be precise enough to create high-purity products and capable of valorising a substantial portion of the materials that are present in the waste into useful products of consistent quality. The European FP7 Project, W2Plastics, is developing a number of novel concepts, in particular Magnetic Density Separation (MDS) and an Ultrasound process and quality control by HyperSpectral Imaging (HSI), into a new technology to recover high-purity polyolefins from complex wastes at low cost. The unique promise of this new concept derives from its ability to accurately separate many different materials in a single process step, resulting in an environmentally friendly and inexpensive process.
Magnetic Density Separation (MDS) is used to separate mixtures of PP and PE into two separate streams of pure PP and PE. The MDS technology makes use of a magnetic field to create different densities in a magnetic liquid (water with nano-particles of iron-oxide). Plastic waste containing various types of plastic flakes is fed into this liquid. Different plastics flakes float at different positions in the magnetic fluid. The various levels (heights in the liquid) can be identified using ultrasound. The equipment that extracts a specific type of plastics can thus be correctly positioned to produce that specific type of pure plastic. Hyperspectral imaging is then used to determine the purity of the extracted layer of plastic. This technique is new and its greatest advantage is that it occurs as a continuous process instead of the batch-techniques already known. It does not use alcohol so it produces no problems for the environment. The technique has been proven in the laboratory and it will certainly be industrialised. There is an overwhelming need for this technique.
EU-xpert and EU-fin
The project decided to use EU-xpert, EU-fin and EU-site. Consultants from FP-tools set up EU-xpert. After the initial explanation to the project office, they experimented with the system to familiarise themselves with it. Users and passwords were created and the tool was introduced to the project at the kick-off meeting. Attention was paid to the use of the tool at subsequent project meetings. The explanatory guide was sent to all users. Scientists used the system in the basic way to submit their contributions. The project office created the assignments, which generated the e-mails with the links to the specific paragraphs and texts explaining what was expected from the scientists. FP-tools supported the reporting process and only minor questions were raised.
The major benefits of EU-xpert were that it created a structured interim report for the EC. The report was easily generated, and it saved time. Moreover, there were no versioning problems with (parts) of documents as they rotated between the scientists and the project office.
EU-fin was also introduced at the kick-off, followed by a presentation aimed at the project’s financial officers. The project office answered additional question by e-mail and telephone. Participants sometimes had to be reminded to fill in the tool with the financial figures. Interim reports had to be completed every six months and each time the data was frozen in an Excel report. The official reporting occurred every 18 months. Explaining a number of guidelines about how to enter details into the database when using the tool, for example, specifying the level of detail expected in the explanation of resources, was important. The Form-C data was generated from the tool and was entered into FORCE. Other reports, including the remaining budgets, were also generated periodically and presented at meetings.
Major benefits of the tool are that the data is centrally stored, any type of report can be created and exported, and the tool is user friendly. The service provided by FP-tools was good.