We are moving in the right direction. Without a doubt, the IPPR - Institute for the Promotion of Recycled Plastics, which every year detects the numbers relating to the use of recycled plastics to produce new products, says this. In 2019, the national processing industry used approximately 1.175 million tons of regenerated polymers, with an increase of + 4.4% compared to 2018 (and + 14.6% compared to 2015).
These numbers confirm the direction towards circular economy models and are reflected in the number of companies that require the Plastic Second Life brand for their products: over 3,700.
But what's behind the recycling? How do you go from waste to regenerated material, which in turn is capable of generating value? As often happens when we talk about the circular economy, the answer is in one word: innovation.
Suffice it to the case of NextChem, a company of the Maire Tecnimont Group, which develops a wide range of technologies that produce positive results in terms of decarbonization and allow the recovery of materials that would otherwise be sent to landfills or disposed of for incineration. The company has developed cutting-edge solutions that allow you to physically recycle rigid plastics that derive from industrial waste and post-consumption, for example from the automotive and packaging supply chain, generating new materials.
The Bedizzole plant, in the province of Brescia, produces 40 thousand tons a year of recycled polymers that replace virgin materials in many sectors.
The difference compared to a traditional recycled is fundamental to the philosophy of the circular economy, at the base of which is the idea that the value already in circulation is never lost. The technology in question, which is called MyReplast, makes it possible to obtain, through recycling, materials with chemical-physical characteristics and mechanical properties similar to those of virgin polymers of fossil origin. Not surprisingly, this approach is called Upcycling.
Design also plays an important role in the plastic recycling process. In fact, recycled plastics are now produced on the basis of market demands in terms of performance: the material is literally designed.
The customization that design allows in terms of performance also has an impact on the aesthetics of the recycled. Now the recovered materials can also be beautiful, suitable for new applications. NextChem is able to differentiate plastics also by color and is developing new color ranges and textures, as well as new translucencies and opacities.
The recycled material has the same shape (small spheres) of the virgin one that is usually inserted in the molding plants. Regarding the applications, the strengths, the elasticity, the surface textures make these secondary raw materials suitable for very different uses. The NextChem polishes are back in furniture also for outdoor use, in the automotive sector, in the production of accessories for many sectors, in building textiles, in packaging for fruit and vegetables, in the construction of tanks and large industrial packaging.
The company also deals with non-recyclable plastics and multilayer products (such as food wrapping) which are treated with Waste to Fuel technology. From the waste they obtain combustible products for industry and mobility, and also for the furniture industry. Methanol, for example, is made through this chemical recycling process and used in the production processes of some upholstery materials in the furniture sector.
Recycled wood, a new economy
The system of recovery and recycling of wood in Italy represents a concrete example of circular economy and in little more years it has created a ‘new economy’, with a percentage of 63% in the recycling of wood packaging, well beyond the target set. from the European Union to 30% for 2030.
The Rilegno Consortium manages a supply chain with 2000 consortium members, 419 private collection platforms, 15 recycling plants. Every year it collects and recycles almost 2 million tons of wood which is mostly made up of pallets, industrial packaging, fruit and vegetable packaging, while an important share, equal to 676 thousand tons, comes from urban collection carried out through active agreements with over 4500 Italian municipalities.
Nicola Semeraro, president of Rilegno confirms: “In recycling plants, wood embarks on a new life cycle, once again becoming a raw material. This is a material that fully embodies the principles of upcycling. 95% of recycled wood is in fact used for the creation of chipboard panels, lifeblood for the furniture industry; then finished to offer an excellent range of finishes and textures of absolute aesthetic appeal and innovative performance. The waste, reduced in volume, is transported to the recycling industries, where the wood, cleaned and reduced to small splinters, becomes a renewed raw material also for the industrial production circuit: panels but also cellulose pulp for paper mills and wood-cement blocks for green building”.
“In the challenge of packaging sustainability, prevention is in first place in the indications given by the Ronchi Decree”, concludes the president of Rilegno. “A virtuous example is that of the regeneration and reuse of pallets, a process through which the packaging is checked and repaired with the aim of putting it back on the market to be reused”.
In 2019, 839 thousand tons of pallets were regenerated, equal to approximately 60 million units with an economic impact on the national production of the activities of the supply chain of approximately 607 million euros, with 4,245 jobs supported in Italy.