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THE NEW PLASTICS ECONOMY: THE TOPDUTCH REGION IS CLOSING THE PLASTICS LOOP

'With chemical recycling, we can transform even the most polluted PET plastics into new raw materials for plastic. A major breakthrough’

Jan Jager, Lecturer in sustainable raw materials

A promising innovation is chemical recycling of polyester (PET), a technology that is being extensively tested in the TopDutch region. ‘This technology makes it possible to transform the most polluted and coloured PET plastics into new raw materials of the original quality. A big breakthrough’, says Jan Jager, lecturer in sustainable plastics at the NHL Stenden University of Applied Sciences in Emmen. ‘So far, food packaging recycling has been done mechanically. This technique, which consists of washing, grinding and melting into new products, is extremely suitable for recycling PET bottles. But the technique is inadequate when it comes to items such as colored PET or colored polyester textiles.’ According to Jager, household plastic waste is often too dirty, and varies in color and composition. Large quantities end up in the incinerator. ‘In chemical recycling of PET, impure plastic is no longer a problem. In this process, the polymers are converted by a simple chemical reaction into the original building blocks from which new polymers can be made. That means big profits; a large stream of polluted plastics can be kept in the cycle thanks to chemical recycling.’

ENABLING ENDLESS REUSE OF PLASTIC
The chemical recycling of PET plastics was a research project in which the company Cumapol from Emmen collaborated with three knowledge institutions. These were NHL Stenden University of Applied Sciences and Windesheim University of Applied Sciences, united in Green PAC, and the University of Groningen. Initially, the technique was tested on a small scale, within the walls of the educational institutions. The next step is to try the technology at the Cumapol plant. The company will be starting this year with a pilot production line where PET is chemically recycled.

This is a good example of how innovation finds fertile soil in the TopDutch region. Thanks to the short lines between the business community and knowledge institutions, various innovations have already been made.

Read more: ENABLING ENDLESS REUSE OF PLASTIC

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