Finnish industry launches US$2.9M to develop industrial chemical recycling concept for plastic waste

FINLAND – The Finnish government is launching a US$2.9 million (€3m) advanced recycling project in collaboration with academics and a host of packaging and waste management businesses.

The project will investigate and upscale pyrolysis technology to boost Finland’s recycling rates and circularize the plastics economy.

Part of the national UrbanMill innovation project, the research is funded by Business Finland and coordinated by the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland in cooperation with Aalto University. Sulapac, Wipak and a number of other players will cooperate with the research.

The project spans multiple industrial sectors and is intended to create collaborations between consortium partners.

The research will be focused on creating novel concepts by combining tailored pre- and post-treatment technologies with pyrolysis.

Anja Omasa, senior principal scientist for UrbanMill, says that the project will give industry tools for piloting and further commercialization of chemical recycling infrastructure.

“The key target is further expansion of plastic waste feedstock possibilities for chemical recycling using the pyrolysis route by obtaining more information,” she says.

The UrbanMill research aims to drastically reduce plastic packaging waste and incineration in Finland.

As with all chemical recycling processes, pyrolysis can broaden the array of plastic waste suitable for recycling and the variety of products it can be upcycled or downcycled into.

“The feedstock base in the UrbanMill project includes challenging plastic waste fractions, which lack proper recycling methods, like multilayer barrier packages, mixed post-consumer waste (separately collected or sorted from municipal waste), rejects from mechanical recycling and biocomposites,” explains Oasmaa.

If the project is successful, UrbanMill could provide an answer to the ambitious environmental targets set by industry and government.

Finland has released its Plastics Roadmap 2.0, which mentions chemical recycling as a tool for reaching the EU’s mandatory 50% recycling target for plastic packaging. Currently, the country achieves around a 30% recycling rate annually.

The launch of UrbanMill comes as pyrolysis faces heavy criticism from some corners of academia and industry.

A report released recently by Zero Waste Europe showed that the technology emits nine times the quantity of greenhouse gasses (GHG) than traditional mechanical recycling.

The report further stated that mechanical recycling should be prioritized and that if the packaging were reduced by 20% and chemical recycling eliminated, there would be a 45% drop in related GHG emissions.

However, Oasmaa says this is one of many studies UrbanMill has considered and that much of the present research on pyrolysis “suffers uncertainty.”

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