A European project aimed at increasing the recycling rates of plastics waste containing hazardous substances promises to change the way waste from the automotive, construction, electrical and electronic industries is handled and disposed of at the end of life. Currently, this waste is landfilled or incinerated under controlled conditions, to contain the hazardous additives it contains.
The NONTOX project is exploring technologies that will make it possible to produce safe, high quality secondary plastic materials from this waste stream. These include both recycling processes and routes to optimise the overall process economics via integration.
The project is being implemented within the context of Europe’s ambitions to transition to a circular economy for plastics, as set down in the EU Plastic Strategy adopted in 2018.
The project is being coordinated by the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland. Other members of the multidisciplinary consortium including internationally renowned RTOs, universities, key industrial partners and recyclers as well as product design experts.are AIMPLAS, Fraunhofer, Università degli studi della Campania Luigi Vanvitelli, Treee, Fundación IMDEA Energía, Stena Recycling International AB, Galea Polymers, ECODOM - Consorzio Italiano per il Recupero e Riciclaggio Elettrodomestici, Norner Research AS, Aalto University and Coolrec.
The project partners are focussing on the recovery of plastic materials from waste electrical and electronic equipment, end-of-life vehicles, and construction and demolition waste, all of which contain hazardous additives and undesirable compounds such as flame retardants, stabilisers and filler materials. The project is yielding important additional knowledge about and experience with the pre-treatment and sorting of plastic waste containing hazardous substances.
The main secondary plastic outputs targeted are ABS, EPS, PS, HIPS, PE, PP, all of which are much sought-after materials that together represent about half of the EU demand for plastics. Landfilling or incinerating waste containing these polymers is not only not in line with the principles of circularity, but it is also a waste of resources that economies today can ill afford.
Two different technologies are being explored, Extruclean and CreaSolv, to eliminate the hazardous substances in the waste materials. These technologies will able to remove substances such as flame retardants from the plastic matrix without breaking the polymer chains. The Extruclean process applies supercritical carbon dioxide (sc-CO2 ) in the extrusion phase of the recycling process; CreaSolv is a patented Fraunhofer technology based on selective extraction: a mechanical recycling process for plastics which allows very pure plastics to be recovered due to their specific solubility.
In addition, the project is also investigating the thermochemical conversion of non-target plastics and side streams from the main recycling processes with the aim of increasing system efficiency by integration and widening the range of final products and applications.