Europe-based recycling technology provider Tomra says it has had a front-row seat to view what works when it comes to turning plastic packaging into a circular material, and the company has increasingly been willing to share what it says it has learned.
At the 2022 International Solid Waste Association (ISWA) convention, held in Singapore in September, Jakob Rognhaug of Tomra presented an overview of the technology vendor’s findings, telling convention attendees, “We can make a serious contribution” when it comes to establishing a pollution-free, low-carbon packaging sector.
Rognhaug cited deposit-return schemes or systems (DRS) as a vital first step toward diverting polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and other bottles into a high-grade recycling loop. Currently, he said, only about 2 percent of PET bottles globally head into such bottle-to-bottle close loops. Tomra has as its goal, said Rognhaug, a 30 percent rate by 2030.
Attempts to boost PET bottle recycling without DRS have “proven to be a failure,” said Rognhaug. Systems that require a deposit payment that is returned when recycling collection occurs “incentivizes the [household] consumer” he added.
Rognhaug said Tomra has found that source-separated collection of materials helps provide the cleaner material streams demanded by paper mills and metals melt shops, but it may not be as necessary in the plastics sector. Recycling program operators have found that asking people to place their plastic into too many separate bins may result in less overall plastic collection.
Thus, Tomra has been advocating setting up dry municipal solid waste (MSW) mixed materials sorting plants, and the company says it has helped devise such facilities, including two in Norway where Tomra is based.
In the Norwegian waste districts with these plants, said Rognhaug, some 70 to 90 percent of all plastic is being recovered for recycling. Additionally, the facilities are recovering paper, board and metal that was not initially properly placed into source-separated bins. “Mixed waste sorting is proven,” stated Rognhaug.
Although advocates of chemical or pyrolysis recycling processes have adopted the term “advanced recycling,” Rognhaug proposed that the type of systems that included DRS, mixed waste sorting and eventual bottle-to-bottle closed loop recycling can be referred to as “advanced mechanical recycling.”
Such methods, said Rognhaug, can create closed loops for PET bottles, polypropylene (PP) packaging and plastic films, with the capability of producing “virgin-like quality” materials from plastic scrap.
The 2022 ISWA convention took place at the Marina Bay Sands Convention Centre in Singapore Sept. 21-23.