Around the world, there is now general agreement that the only possible development model capable of delivering a “zero waste” future to the world is the Circular Economy. Today, however, there are only a few cases of closed-circuit systems that can take a material that has reached the end of its originally-intended useful life, and make it new again, without generating more waste.
The race is on to develop more such systems. Nowhere is the pressure greater than in the plastics packaging sector. That pressure is particularly strong in Europe. Not surprisingly then, some of the most important responses to that pressure are coming from European organisations.
The European Union is cracking down on plastics waste, as it pushes forward its plans for the Circular Economy. It is limiting the use of single-use plastics and setting tough targets for use of recycled materials.
Under the Single-Use Plastics Directive, PET bottles will have to contain at least 25% recycled PET (so-called rPET) by 2025, rising to 30% by 2030. It is estimated that, to meet the 2030 target, the EU will require double its current rPET reprocessing capacity.
Today, less than 60% of bottle PET is collected for recycling; and only 6% makes it back into new bottles. To make the EU’s targets achievable there is a clear and strong need for new and improved PET recovery and recycling technologies. Fortunately, moves are being made to meet that need.
A ground-breaking technology for the production of PET bottles entirely out of post-consumer waste has been developed. This fully integrates two processes that are normally kept separate: the creation of process-ready material from prewashed flakes coming from used bottles; and the production of new bottles (or at least the preforms that are later blown into bottles) from the flakes.
rPET is in itself an important contribution to the Circular Economy. But this process integration brings additional important advantages in terms of sustainability, since it is much more energy-efficient than traditional methods.
The integrated process, called XTREME Renew, was developed and patented by SIPA, a leading specialist in PET bottle processing technologies based in northern Italy, in collaboration with Austrian recycling technology specialist EREMA.
XTREME Renew is capable of using almost 30% less energy than a conventional PET preform production system; CO2 emissions are almost 80% lower. Compared with traditional systems producing rPET containers, the emissions reduction is around 18%. In addition to this, XTREME Renew has a lower requirement on warehouse space that can amount to as much as 20%.
XTREME Renews starts with EREMA’s Vacurema technology, which decontaminates and removes moisture from the flakes under vacuum. This technology uses less energy than alternative systems. In addition, it improves the colour of the processed material and keeps levels of acetaldehyde (a degradation product that can affect taste of bottled liquids) very low. The Vacurema system also creates a highly homogenous melt, even if input material has variable viscosity.
In conventional PET recycling systems, the extruder processing the bottle flake converts it into granules for processing at a later stage. This involves cooling the melt into a solid, cutting it up, drying it, and then later remelting it – processes that all require energy. But in the XTREME Renew process, the Vacurema extruder is connected directly with SIPA’s XTREME preform production unit, eliminating all of these steps.
The advantages do not stop there: XTREME uses a highly innovative extrusion-injection-compression moulding process to create ultralight PET preforms that perform just as well as conventional injection moulded preforms that weigh more.
Containers produced from the preforms boast a high level of aesthetics, thanks to the elimination of an entire melting process that could otherwise cause yellowing in the resin. XTREME Renew allows for bottle blowing to be carried out directly in-line with the production of the preforms, providing even more energy savings in preform cooling and reheating. Also, having separate preform and bottle production operations provides more flexibility for processors.
XTREME Renew technology is unique in its ability to produce top-quality bottles, suitable for food contact, directly from flakes of post-consumer waste, in a single heat cycle.
The first two XTREME Renew plants have been installed in Japan, in collaboration with two Japanese partners, Kyoei Industry and Suntory. These systems can produce over 300 million containers per year. Kyoei Industry is a major recycling company. Suntory, with sales of 20 billion dollars and 38,000 employees worldwide, fills more than 2.5 billion bottles every year. A third system is due for installation in Poland around the end of this year, at a Coca-Cola plant.
Recognition of the importance of this development came a few months after the first XTREME Renew plants went into operation in Japan. This was in the form of a prestigious WorldStar Packaging Award from the World Packaging Organisation (WPO). The WPO presents WorldStar Packaging Awards every year to what are considered by independent experts to be the best packaging solutions and applied technological innovations.
“This is a solution that represents the perfect response to the requirements of the new Circular Economy,” says Gianfranco Zoppas, President of SIPA. “Waste reprocessing is rendered sustainable and economic while producing new products of the highest quality.
“I am particularly honoured that this technology has received important international recognition. It has already had such a success in Japan that our partners there are even now thinking of two additional installations that will triple the production capacity to almost a billion rPET bottles per year. I very much hope that XTREME Renew will also be adopted in more regions around the world.”
“Social responsibility is the basis of a company’s mission,” Zoppas concludes. “Combining environmental sustainability and economic development is possible. Businesses need to help deliver a better world for future generations, and that is just one more reason why we developed XTREME Renew. “
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by Gianfranco Zoppas, President, Zoppas Industries
SIPA: the PET specialist
SIPA has been designing, manufacturing, and selling a wide range of technologies for the production, filling and packaging of PET containers for some 30 years – containers that are used for foods and beverages, cleaning products, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals. Based in Vittorio Veneto, Italy, the company employs more than 1100 people, creating a turnover (2019) of €220 million. SIPA has 17 sales branches, five production facilities (three sites in Italy, one in Romania and one in China) and 30 post-sales service centers for the provision of technical support and spare parts. It has installed 7,200 systems in almost 150 countries. Around the world, its customers number around 2600. Exports account for over 95% of the company’s production.