The so-called PRIMUS project commenced in May and is tasked with analysis and technical development for processing waste plastic for use in challenging applications in the automotive industry and household appliances.
Focusing on mechanical recycling, the project ultimately seeks to improve the recycling possibilities of industrial plastics and to find suitable uses for recycled plastics.
“Recycled plastic must be used more for products with a high processing value,” said senior researcher and project manager from the technical research centre VTT, Anna Tenhunen-Lunkka. “If we really want to replace virgin fossil raw materials on a wider scale, recycled plastics must be used in places other than flowerpots or buckets.”
PRIMUS faces a challenging road ahead given the broad range of plastics that are utilised and their fluctuating quality. Further compounding the testing circumstances is the complexity of value chains, which can impede the implementation of various circular economy strategies, such as recycling.
“At the end of the project, we will have several validated products that can be used to stabilise the flow of recycled materials on the market. The project prototypes are a car dashboard, a cooling system and its fasteners, and a refrigerator demonstrating the suitability of recycled plastic in food contact applications, along with an example of a closed cycle, where the seals of a washing machine door are recycled into new seals,” Tenhunen-Lunkka continued.
VTT is tasked with the mechanical recycling and managing material degradation for the project and the University of Eastern Finland is overseeing project analytics using mass spectrometry.
Spinning out over plastic recycling
Much is happening in recycling plastics at VTT. The technical research centre has just announced plans to spin out a new company – Olefy Technologies – that can extract over 70 per cent virgin grade plastics and chemical raw materials components from plastic waste. The single step process significantly reduces the cost of plastic recycling and seeks to diminish the amount of landfill-bound plastic waste that currently languishes unprocessed.
“One of the problems with current recycling methods is that the quality degrades every time plastic is recycled,” said Matti Nieminen, head of technology at Olefy. “After several rounds of mechanical recycling, the quality becomes too poor, and the plastic is no longer usable and goes to a landfill. With the Olefy recycling process, the quality of the plastic is equal to virgin grade, so it can be recycled indefinitely and materials no longer need to end up in landfills.
“In essence, Olefy will make it possible for plastic to be a true part of the circular economy.”