Home NewsEnvironmental Technology Europe €9m EU funded research breakthrough set to pave way for better plastics recycling

€9m EU funded research breakthrough set to pave way for better plastics recycling

EU-funded researchers are currently working on an industrial-grade pilot plant to demonstrate a new way to break down common plastics for recycling.

The pioneering process, which uses microwave technology, could contribute to Europe’s efforts to curb plastic waste.

Plastic litter is a major challenge at both European and worldwide level – Europeans alone are generating 25 million tonnes every year.

Current methods of recycling plastics, such as polyethylene terephthalate (PET), focus on mechanically recovering plastic solid waste for reuse through various processes including grinding, for example. However,  only certain types – single-polymer plastics – can be processed, which means more complex and contaminated material is discarded.

The EU-funded DEMETO project’s chemical recycling solution offers producers and recyclers a profitable way to treat plastic waste, effectively closing its life cycle. Europe is on a drive to create a ‘circular economy’ where nothing goes to waste and materials are efficiently and safely reused.

Chemical breakdown

PET is usually recognised as the clear plastic used in water and soft drink containers but the polymer resin is also found in fibres for clothing and food packaging.

The DEMETO team is taking a patented technology that uses electromagnetic waves to effectively de-polymerise the PET, breaking it down chemically for repeat use in other plastic products. To demonstrate the technology on an industrial scale, the project is building a full and industrial-grade pilot plant with a functioning reactor at it core.

The total worldwide market potential for the technology has been estimated at around €5.4 billion in some 270 plants. In Europe alone, some 60 plants could generate market value of up to € 1.2 billion.

The DEMETO project, which consists of 13 partners from across Europe, including Swedish clothing giant H&M, started in September 2017 and is due to conclude in August 2020.

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