UK to invest £20m in ‘next generation’ plastic recycling market

Author: Matt Tudball

2020/10/16

LONDON (ICIS)--The UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund is investing £20m in four recycling plants across England and Scotland, including projects from waste management companies Biffa and Veolia, the UKRI announced on Friday.

The £20m investment from the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, along with over £65m of industry investment, represents the largest investment the UK has made in plastic packaging recycling technologies, the UKRI said in a press release.

The four projects receiving funding are:

  • ReNew ELP’s Catalytic Hydrothermal Reactor (Cat-HTR™) plant
  • Recycling Technologies’ chemical recycling plant
  • Poseidon Plastics’ hard-to-recycle PET chemical recycling plant
  • A collaboration between Veolia, Unilever, Charpak Ltd and HSSMI to develop the UK’s first dual PET bottle and tray recycling facility.

The facilities, once completed, have the potential to process close to 130,000 tonnes of waste plastic, though the actually amount of recycled material may differ depending on factors such as process losses and quality of inputted material.

"Clearly from 2021 we are set to see a step change in the development of plastic recycling technologies in the UK, a market in much need of improvement in its waste infrastructure which produces low quality recyclates and still looks to export markets to deal with its waste.” said Helen McGeough, ICIS Senior Analyst Recycling.

ReNew ELP

ReNew stated on their website the award of £4.42 million received will be used to build the world’s first commercial-scale plastic recycling plant using Cat-HTR™ technology. The grant will aid ReNew ELP in the construction of the initial plant, which commences build in Q1 2021 and will see up to 80,000 tonnes of waste plastic recycled annually upon completion.

UKRI states the plant will be built at Wilton, in Teeside, England, and end of life plastic into chemicals and oils for use in the production of new virgin grade plastics including naphtha, waxes, and a bitumen-like residue suitable for use in road construction.

Recycling Technologies

Recycling Technologies, Neste and Unilever are collaborating to further develop and harness chemical recycling to recover and reuse plastic packaging that is currently either incinerated, buried in landfill or exported from the UK, according to Recycling Technologies’ website, using £3.1m from the UKRI grant.

In a three-year project, Recycling Technologies will chemically recycle waste plastic packaging into Plaxx oil at their plant in Perth, Scotland, which will be delivered to Neste for testing. Neste will further upgrade the Plaxx oil, turning it into high-quality drop-in feedstock for the production of new, virgin-quality plastics. Unilever will bring insight on design for recycling for packaging.

The plant is designed to process 7,000tpa of hard-to-recycle mixed plastic waste, producing 5,200tpa of a hydrocarbon oil which can replace crude oil in plastics production, UKIR said.

Poseidon Plastics

Poseidon Plastics will be using the grant to construct a 15,000 tonne per annum PET recycling facility, located at the Wilton international site at Teesside, close to other plastic packaging and recycling infrastructure such as ReNew.

In a statement from Biffa, who joins Poseidon Plastics and others as part of the Poseidon Project, the waste management company said Poseidon designed and trialled a 50-500kg plant which is being upscaled to a 15,000-tonne demonstrator plant, and Biffa will be providing the feedstock to this 15,000-tonne plant, from Biffa’s £27.5m rPET recycling facility in Seaham.

Other members of the Poseidon Project, due to start in 2021, are Dupont Teijin Films, Alpek, GRN and O’Neills.

Veolia

Veolia in collaboration with Unilever, Charpak Ltd and HSSMI, will develop the UK's first dual PET bottle and tray recycling facility (supported by a digital twin created by HSSMI), capable of recycling 100% of clear rigid PET in a closed-loop system.

Charpak Ltd will use the flakes produced in its trays, making tray to tray recycling a reality, while Unilever will investigate the non-food contact recycled PET produced from this facility in its home and personal care range, so avoiding the use of food contact grade material in these non-food products.

Through the development and use of the digital twin, HSSMI will pioneer a virtual engineering approach in the waste industry, which will help optimise the facility and identify potential commercial challenges.

If initial trials are successful, the proposed facility would process 35,000tpa of mixed PET packaging waste at an existing Veolia site.

McGeough added: “This investment goes some way to improve the prospect of greater circularity of resources, making waste a true resource and extending the life of those materials. These projects have the potential to contribute to a greater proportion of plastic waste being diverted from the typical energy-from-waste and landfill disposal routes that dominate the current UK infrastructure.

"With investment levels from industry three times that of UKRI, it demonstrates the real commitment from the sector to change the profile of plastic waste management. Demand for recycled polymers significantly outstrips supply so there is no question that there are end users willing and able to take the output from these projects."

The funding of the four projects forms part of UKRI’s Smart Sustainable Plastic Packaging (SSPP) challenge, which aims to increase the amount of recyclable plastic packaging and improve UK productivity in plastics, leading to a reduction in plastic waste entering the environment.

Focus article by Matt Tudball

Click here to see regulatory targets and a list of chemical and mechanical recyclers on the ICIS Circular Economy topic page.