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Finland develops sustainable plastic recycling technology

Finnish researchers are looking to catch lightning in a bottle with their recycling solution.Adobe

VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland has successfully demonstrated a chemical recycling technology that promises to provide an environmentally friendly alternative to incineration.

It is estimated that 40–60 per cent of plastic waste ends up being incinerated in Finland due to the technical limitations of mechanical recycling. The quality of plastic deteriorates as the number of recycling loops increases, and various types of plastic may prove impossible to separate from the get-go.

“By chemical recycling, however, plastics and their mixtures can be broken down into separate raw materials, whose quality is equal to that of respective virgin materials,” saysAnja Oasmaa, senior principal scientist at VTT.

VTT demonstrated the feasibility of the new chemical recycling technology during its two-year Business Finland WasteBusters’ project, in which the long polymer chains of plastics were broken down into smaller ones through pyrolysis, or heating in the absence of oxygen. The final product is a pyrolysis wax or oil, which can probably be processed normally at oil refineries.

“Companies are interested in the fact that plastic waste can be turned into other chemicals besides plastics, which will then replace virgin fossil raw materials in a sustainable manner. We want to develop this line of business with sustainable solutions in close co-operation with companies,” envisions Oasmaa.

The researchers also calculated that 10 pyrolysis plants could prove profitable in Finland and suggested that the plants be connected to waste recycling plants. VTT is preparing further studies related to the technology, such as the production diesel fuels for use in flexible power generation and marine transport.

Improvements in the pre-treatment of plastic waste are crucial for a cost-effective concept. Image: VTT

Good News from Finland is published by Finnfacts, which is part of Business Finland.

By: Samuli Ojala