18 December 2020

With its TRUCIRCLE portfolio, SABIC is capturing value from sources like animal-free bio-based feedstock and post-consumer recycle, which have traditionally been ignored or discarded. The ISCC PLUS accredited materials offer drop-in solutions for replacing fossil-based plastics in the packaging industry without compromising product purity and food safety. Moreover, BOPP film using certified circular PP polymer from SABIC offers an excellent balance of stiffness and toughness as well as barrier and hot-fill properties. It can be used for a wide range of flexible applications, from labels and tape to packaging pouches and bags in areas such as confectionery, snacks, baked goods, dried fruits, pasta, fresh food, and pet care products.
SABIC’s TRUCIRCLE offering spans from design for recyclability services and mechanically recycled materials to certified circular products from feedstock recycling of used plastics as well as certified renewable polymers from bio-based feedstock. Third-party ISCC PLUS certification ensures that the mass balance accounting of the company’s circular polymer products follows predefined and transparent rules. In addition, it provides traceability along the entire supply chain from the feedstock to the final product. Matthew Rogerson spoke with Mark Vester to learn more.

Mark Vester

While the circular economy is based on a European Initiative and the main regulatory actions and levers are flowing from here, it is a global problem when we talk about plastic waste, and as a global company we believe that Europe’s lead is being followed around the world. This is a planetary problem without borders. My recent work has been responsible for the polyethylene business in Europe for SABIC which is where I have most recently been exposed to discussions about circularity of materials and recycling over the last six years or so.

Earlier in the role in the polyethylene business, we initiated a project to look for the new feedstock for our products, which has resulted in a new role of polyethylene or polypropylene, that we grow in the market already five years ago based on a waste stream from another industry, and that was kind of like the beginning of some of the developments that have now resulted in what we call nowadays refer to as portfolio solutions within SABIC. And already there, we've been talking about concepts that are still being discussed and applied today. Like mass balance and certification and some other things,life cycle analysis, you name it.

Matthew Rogerson

My first question would be about flexible packaging and making mono materials to reach circular guidelines - is that what true circle is?


we can distinguish between flexible for multiple applications and we have a very wide range of products in our portfolio as selling designs from polyethylene and polypropylene all the way to engineering thermoplastics like polycarbonate, but also BOPP PVC poly sidings our portfolio is very wide.

When we look at flexible packaging there are limitations as to what mechanical recycling can bring. I think most of the developments in mechanical recycling and polyolefins especially when you look at packaging, most flexible packaging via mechanical recycling is often not good enough especially for applications that impact the shelf stability and function of products. It often does not look sufficiently good and sometimes mechanical properties are not sufficiently good at handling odor color gloss, and there are limitations in food contact.

This is why to us it seemed sensible to concentrate on chemical and feedstock recycling as more efficient methods. About 18 months ago SABIC had a demonstration of this concept in the Netherlands; the concept was to take mixed plastic waste, flexible, filled, reused and post consumer materials. Amd to turn them back into building blocks for the feedstock plastic is originally made from. If you do that you can use the same process we use today to create the plastic ; crackers in the formulation units and you can use these orphan, waste plastics again as if they were virgin stock - there is no difference between them. The properties are the same, the product safety is identical and you can use them on the same machines.

They are an identical drop in solution composition version of the polymers, the only difference is that we did not lose use and lose them, we use a liquid feedstock which is made from plastic waste.

So, that brings a new solution to the industry which then opens up new opportunities for the value chain and for the brand owners and that is why you have seen some examples of a product made by a prestige premium brand that has packaging used for food contact that in effect has been produced from mixed plastic waste.


Are there any kind of limits on how you can go about how much of the plastic can be recycled content going into the new tubs?


No. Because the polymer is identical. The only current issue is that the ingredients and scale of getting this renewed feedstock is not at the size needed to replace all global plastics operations. It is a new and small market, but it can and will grow. Once it has scaled it will bring the benefits of no technical limitations on the polymers being reused repeatedly and will be at the scale needed to become circular.

As the availability of liquid waste grows over time we can replace more and more of our traditional processes.


and the waste stream feedstock is that just acquired through is that through crushing the the recycled plastic or how do you how do you get the material to use into that that fat stock?


There are different ways of chemical recycling. And the process that we use is called pyrolysis. And that means that you heat plastics in absence of oxygen, so there's no oxidation of the product taking place. And when you get an output which consists partly of a sort of gas, but the largest output of the processes is the liquid phase mentioned earlier.

Then you go in and you expose the molecules to pressures and temperatures that make sure that at the end of that you have the same quality slate as that you have with a virgin feedstock.

polyethylene is made from ethylene. Whether that is from ethylene from mixed plastic waste or from oil that was taken out of the ground there is no difference in properties

Mechanical recycling has its limitations, they also cannot be applied in context. That is not applicable when you talk about chemical recycling. So this recycling allows you to target food contact applications, but also hygienic cosmetic at the most critical applications. And that is why it was so good that we had this cooperation with Unilever because, of course, Magnum is a prestige brand and they will not take any risk with their packaging. So it really shows that this allows you to go back to the highest quality, the highest standard of application that is possible with plastics. The other thing is that when you look at the source of material that you use to mix plastic waste, you can go to more contaminated, less purified streams than for mechanical recycling. So in that sense, you can also continue to use and say that certain streams that have been sorted or kept the price for mechanical recycling, you can keep using them for mechanical recycling, because feedstock recycling will allow you to use feedstocks that are difficult to recycle with mechanical recycling.


And is there any way of or do you have any information as to the kind of impact of now that you have this technology? Does it give you a sense that you can now take 20% or 30% or 40% of the mixed recycling that was currently not able to be changed into this kind of second second life or second use? Do you have any ideas on what kind of how bigger dent it makes in plastics that would otherwise not have occurred?


Difficult to, to answer. Of course, all the work and associations like ours are doing to stimulate recycling, pepper sorting more collecting metal sorting, creating more applications was one solution is also to create more technologies to develop technologies that were otherwise not available for recycling. And this is complementary to mechanical recycling. The views on how big this will be relative to mechanical recycling, say 10 years. There are some studies done by the likes of McKinsey that went and made some estimates of that. I would not want to give a forecast of that. But I think that the contribution of feedstock recycling, and a few years' time can be substantial and additive to what we are doing by that time in terms of mechanical recycling. Again, we see them next to each other. And we think that the contribution of chemical recycling will be sizable.

One of the biggest hurdles has been in communicating with the market. We have the brand owners on board, who see and understand how the technology works and could be applied. They are positioning it in the market and explaining to consumers what it is and how it works. That will hopefully allow regulators the chance to embrace the technology and remove some of the challenges that are currently in place. Hopefully there can be a completely even field for all mechanical recycling and chemical recycling across all materials, including of course plastics., Chemical recycled materials should also count as recycled materials against targets that the EU is setting. National regulators then need to consider what the position of chemically recycled materials relative to mechanical recycling is when it comes to taxes and EPR schemes.

So it's very important that we treat chemical recycling fairly in terms of the regulation we put in place. I think that's an important one. And that is short term. That's almost immediate, because that can blow the whole development of this technology as the market and the regulators are not receptive. It's a major, pressing issue. It is vital that there is alignment between countries on questions such as allowing chemical recycling to be used to hit targets , as there is nothing worse for an industry like ours than having conflicting regulation and definitions country to country that we operate in.

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