Axion & PlastiCircle develop new uses for non-bottle PET waste

Axion & PlastiCircle develop new uses for non-bottle PET waste

Recycled polymers from waste plastic packaging can be used in non-packaging applications, reports Axion, one of 20 organisations involved in PlastiCircle, a pioneering pan-European research project.

The €8.6 million EU Horizon 2020-funded project has been working for the past four years to optimise the collection, transport, sorting and recycling of kerbside collected plastic packaging with the aim of transforming this waste into sustainable new products. The project ends in May 2021.

Axion is managing work with five manufacturers on how recycled content from plastic packaging can be incorporated into different non-packaging applications, including the construction and automotive sectors.

Richard McKinlay, Axion’s Head of Consulting says although the need and demand for closed loop recycling back into packaging is growing, there are still opportunities to use more recycled content in non-packaging applications.

Polyethylene terephthalate (PET), although less commonly used in non-packaging applications, does have uses in the construction industry. PET bottles are often collected and recycled back into food packaging, which is the most beneficial route. But non-bottle PET, such as that used in thermoformed trays, is not widely recycled and much of this material goes to energy recovery.

Greater concentration of PET tray material is found in kerbside collections in countries that operate a deposit scheme on PET bottles. As the PET tray is a more brittle copolymer, it cannot be recycled into a bottle and can be technically challenging to use back in food trays. Coloured PET also faces more market limitations as the demand is largely for clear PET.

“To increase demand and therefore improve the economics of recycling PET tray material, more end markets would be beneficial,” says Richard.

One example of a non-packaging product using recycled PET is a foam PET board produced by Armacell. Working within the PlastiCircle project, the Belgian manufacturer has overcome technical challenges to develop the use of alternative sources of rPET, like PET trays, and give a second life to this packaging material, while gaining a new feedstock source.

Since 2010, Armacell has been pioneering in the production of PET foam boards based on 100% recycled post-consumer bottles flakes for a range of technical applications, such as wind energy, construction, rail and road transport and automotive, as well as general industries.

For Armacell, the challenges related to recycling PET tray material are the low intrinsic viscosity (IV), the frequent use of multilayer sheets in packaging trays and other contaminations coming from the mixed plastic household waste collection.

To achieve the correct mechanical properties for the PET foam boards, it is essential to limit raw material variations and to master material melt viscosity and pressure in the extruder. “With a combination of adapted processing parameters, as well as new melt modifier formulation, it is possible to produce foam boards from tray-PET that have a comparable quality to foam boards produced from bottle PET,” comments Lisa Scholle, Armacell’s Innovation Scientist, PET Foams.

She adds: “The possibility of using PET from trays to produce PET foam boards opens up a new source of raw material. In addition, the raw material price is likely to be lower than that of PET from post-consumer bottles in the long run.”

Richard concludes that demonstrating the use of recycled PET from trays in non-packaging applications ‘should help to progress European infrastructure’.

He adds: “Going forwards, additional financial incentive to encourage more recycling into non-packaging applications would help the sector to overcome some economic barriers. This project represents another significant step forward in the move to a circular economy for plastics because it has shown what is possible in using recycled content in quite demanding applications, which has previously not been done on such a scale.”

Employees of the month – Tadese Bhrane and Henry Tannahill

Tadese Bhrane and Henry Tannahill are the latest winners of our ‘Employee of the Month’ awards. Tadese works as an Industrial Labourer at our Trafford Park site and was nominated for his work ethic and his dedication to his role. Tadese is known for his positive attitude and his willingness to take on any task without issue.

Henry works as a Process Engineer at our Salford site and has been working hard recently on process improvements with great results. His hard work and focus meant that the improvements were implemented on time and have already proved to be very effective.



Axion Polymers enhances lab testing with new XRF analyser

Axion has invested in new lab testing equipment at its Salford-based plastics recycling facility that will allow for more accurate and rigorous material testing of its recycled polymer infeed material and finished products.

Designed for regulatory compliance screening, the XRF X-MET8000 Expert CG handheld analyser identifies regulated elements, usually metals, within the plastic infeed material. Crucially, the Hitachi High-Tech device identifies and measures substances of very high concern (SVCH) and restricted persistent organic pollutants (POPs).

Axion’s Salford plant refines plastics extracted from waste electrical goods and end-of-life vehicles (auto shredder waste) at our nearby facility at Trafford Park, Manchester. The resulting high-quality recycled engineering polymers are REACH and RoHS-compliant and match virgin material quality for use in a wide range of new products.

“This state-of-the-art XRF analyser means Axion’s customers can have a very high level of confidence that the material they are buying complies with REACH and RoHS regulations,” says Mark Keenan, Axion’s Business Development Manager.

“Enhancing our lab capabilities enables us to deal with the ever-changing landscape of material testing requirements and gives us the ability to comply with any changes in the permitted levels of SVCHs and POPs in the future.”

Having the on-site ability to test finished products also gives Axion an advantage over its competitors, Mark believes. “Having this technology on site will be a big plus and help set us apart from other recyclers.”

He notes that demand for recycled polymers in all sectors is currently high, adding: “The automotive and electrical markets are realising that they are going to have to include recycled content in their goods. I am getting enquiries on a daily basis from manufacturers looking to replace virgin plastics.”