Home » Sustainable Packaging » Recycling the unrecyclable – how advanced recycling is the answer to eliminating environmental plastic pollution

Dr Steve Mahon

CEO, Mura Technology Ltd

With the UK’s recycling rate at just 45%1, the majority of plastic packaging is sent to incineration or landfill, resulting in environmental plastic pollution and increasing CO2 emissions. With the goal of recycling 500,000 tonnes of plastic waste annually by 2025, Mura Technology present Cat-HTR™ – the future of plastic recycling.

Despite growing rates of plastic consumption and the challenge of identifying a truly effective recycling process, according to Dr Steve Mahon, Chief Executive Officer of Mura Technology Ltd, plastic is not “the enemy.”

He explains: “Plastic is a flexible and hard-working product, and should be treated with value. The problem doesn’t lie with this functional and practical material, it lies with poor management and insufficient levels of recycling. It is the current system that is failing.

“Plastic has brought about many advances in food and medical preservation and protection, so instead of being discarded after a short, single use, it should be valued.”

Plastic is a flexible and hard-working product, and should be treated with value.

However, as the population and its plastic consumption grows, huge quantities of post-consumer products and packaging are being disposed of via landfill or incineration, or exported to developing countries.

“They are taking in huge plastic imports from developed countries but do not have the infrastructure to support them,” Mahon said.

Traditional, mechanical recycling has limitations

Many post-consumer, flexible plastic products such as films, pots, tubs and trays are made up of many different types of plastics and so due to the limitations of traditional mechanical recycling, are considered unrecyclable. Instead, these valuable materials are sent to landfill or incineration after a short, “single use” lifespan.

An answer, however, is coming. Advanced recycling is the process of converting waste plastic back into the oils and chemicals from which it was made for use in the manufacture of new plastic. This helps to increase the scope of plastic types that can be recycled, significantly reduces carbon dioxide emissions when compared to incineration and vitally, diverts waste plastic waste away from the environment and into recycling.

Mechanical and advanced recycling as a complementary approach

With the implementation of the imminent plastic packaging tax and increased extended producer responsibility (EPR), the onus is on brands and retailers to address their use of plastic by adopting these more viable methods of recycling.

Many plastic products are considered unrecyclable and are instead sent to landfill or incineration after a short, “single-use” lifespan. The Cat-HTR™ technology is a shovel-ready solution to recycling waste plastic, with the first site in development in Teesside, North East England.

“Where plastic can be mechanically recycled, it should be,” said Mahon. “For example, plastic bottles made of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) can be mechanically recycled.

“We see our advanced recycling solution as a complementary technology to sit alongside mechanical recycling, not to replace it. It sits hand in hand with mechanical recycling and a reduction in unnecessary plastics.”

Recycling the unrecyclable

In response to the rising levels of plastic waste, Mura Technology has developed Cat-HTR™ (Catalytic Hydrothermal Reactor), a form of advanced recycling that uses supercritical water to rearrange the chemical structure of plastic waste, to recycle it into new products.

This enables waste plastic, previously considered “unrecyclable”, to be converted back into the chemicals and oils from which it was made, for use in the petrochemical industry in the production of new plastic and other materials.

“This helps create a circular economy for plastic, benefitting the environment and allowing for the sustainable management of plastic,” Mahon said.

Mura Technology are developing the Cat-HTR™ plastic recycling process, able to recycle all plastic types, including food-contaminated, mixed-plastic streams, without need for separation. New materials made from Mura’s recycled feedstock products are suitable for use in food-contact packaging material, and the technology can also be used for medical packaging – vital, in the current climate.

Mura Technology are developing a global plan for roll-out of this exciting technology with a goal of recycling 500,000 tonnes annually across sites in the USA, Germany and Japan. The first commercial-scale site, ReNew ELP (www.renewelp.co.uk) is currently in development in the North East of England, with building schedule to commence Q1 2021. This site alone will recycle 80,000 tonnes of waste plastic annually on completion. [email protected]

1 WRAP Plastics Market Situation Report 2019

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