tomra plastic flakes
Steady shredding and sorting equipment investments are being made globally to convert plastic scrap into new products.
Photo courtesy of Tomra Sorting Recycling.

The new way of doing things

Companies around the world are setting up plants to turn discarded, shredded plastic packaging into marketable products.

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October 14, 2020

Investments around the world point to the likelihood that vendors of plastic scrap size reduction equipment will have bountiful opportunities in the decade of the 2020s.

Emblematic of the efforts is a project announced in the first quarter of this year in which Noida, India-based UFlex Ltd. says it intends to set up two washing and recycling lines in that Indian city to recycle polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles and multilayer packaging scrap.

The company is referring to the facility as “India’s first plant for [the] washing and recycling of postconsumer multilayer plastic and PET bottle” scrap, which points to the existing lack of plastic scrap shredding and granulating capacity that currently exists in the nation of more than 1.3 billion.

UFlex says the postconsumer resin (PCR) line will wash and recycle multilayer packaging scrap and convert it into granules via a process of shredding, washing and drying. The granules can be used to form more than 10,000 industrial and household products like flower pots, outdoor furniture, bucket, dust bins, paver tiles and road dividers, according to UFlex.

The company says the project is in line with its global sustainability campaign called “Project Plastic Fix,” through which UFlex “will steer its efforts toward keeping plastic in the economy and out of the environment, converting waste into wealth.”

UFlex is far from alone in investing in plastic scrap sorting, shredding, washing and reprocessing capacity in 2020. Even amidst a pandemic and the resulting economic downturn, the Recycling Today website has seen a parade of news in 2020 with announcements of new plastic recycling capacity being added on every continent. Nearly all this capacity will require a plastic size reduction process in one or more stages.

Just in September and early October of this year, announcements for projects in Europe, the United States, Mexico and the Middle East point to the processing and reprocessing of streams of plastic scrap that were formerly discarded.

Austria-based packaging producer Alpla says it intends to build a plant in Toluca, Mexico, to recycle high-density polyethylene (HDPE) plastic. As designed, the plant will be able to produce 15,000 metric tons of recycled-content HDPE made from postconsumer materials annually, the family-owned company says.

A project involving Saudi Arabia-based Saudi Basic Industries Corp. (SABIC) involves collaborating with Fibertex Personal Care, a Denmark-based manufacturer of nonwovens for the hygiene industry, to create a range of nonwovens using what the two companies call high-purity recycled polypropylene (PP) plastics from SABIC’s TruCircle portfolio and services. SABIC says the effort will create the first nonwoven product line based on recycled plastics in the hygiene industry.

The United Kingdom operations of automaker Jaguar Land Rover will be working with Italy-based Aquafil to use that firm’s Econyl nylon to develop nylon interior components for its vehicles. Aquafil says it can recycle some 40,000 metric tons of scrap annually in the production its Econyl yarn, which can be processed into fiber for carpet flooring and textiles.

Companies from North America are far from idle on the plastics recycling front. The backers of the polypropylene recycling company PureCycle in Ohio say they intend to raise $250 million to complete a commercial-scale plant that will be able to recycle more than 50,000 tons of PP scrap annually.

Plastic film recycling in North America is attracting investments from composite building products maker Trex, which uses shredded and flaked film in its products, as well as Germany-based PreZero, which says it is seeking low-density polyethylene (LDPE) and low-low-density polyethylene (LLDPE) plastic film in the U.S. for recycling through its PreZero U.S. subsidiary.

Another building products maker, Chicago-based The Azek Co., has signed an agreement with Evansville, Indiana-based recycling company Berry Global Group Inc. Per that agreement, the Azek Building Products business unit will use mixed material, postindustrial scrap provided by Berry in the making of residential and commercial building materials, such as composite decking.

Polystyrene (PS) recycling is the focus of an announced project that would see Germany-based Ineos Styrolution and Texas-based AmSty collaborate to build a 100-ton-per-day facility in Channahon, Illinois, that will use chemical recycling technology to convert discarded PS back into what the firms call “virgin-equivalent styrene monomer.”

The parade of announcements appears to be the result of governmental mandates and corporate sustainability commitments that started in Europe but has spread well beyond there. The combination of government and corporate activity has sparked a level of investment in plastic scrap diversion, shredding and reprocessing that can fairly be called unprecedented.

Returning to the UFlex project in India, the company’s Dinesh Jain, president of legal and corporate affairs, summarizes prevailing corporate attitudes in 2020. “We believe in co-existence of sustainability and business, and it is incumbent on us to take care of our environment with ethical and safe practices, such that the utility of our product persists without any harm to the environment,” Jain says.