BARCELONA (ICIS)–Mechanical recycling has
benefits over chemical recycling, but both will
be required for a successful circular plastics
economy, according to the CEO of Austria’s
polyolefins and fertilizers major Borealis.
R-LDPE plant in Austria. Source: Ecoplast
Alfred Stern said lower processing temperature,
less complexity and more developed
infrastructure make mechanical recycling the
first choice for Borealis, though limits on its
use mean that chemical recycling will be
required to further boost recycling rates.
Speaking on the sidelines of the K-Fair in
Germany, Stern said that Borealis has chosen to
focus initially on mechanical recycling because
the technology is already available and has a
lot of development potential to further
increase quality and yields.
“Three levels of effort are required on
recycling: chemical recycling, mechanical
recycling and renewable feedstocks for the base
polymer so we are taking a suite of approaches
to the opportunity,” he said.
“We really need to push mechanical recycling as
far we can because it is the lower energy route
to recycling of plastics. At Borealis, we are
convinced a mixture of technologies will
ultimately be used. Mechanical recycling
requires less energy to turn plastic waste back
into plastic products.”
However, he added that there will limits to
this, and for the remainder chemical recycling
could be used to obtain higher recycling rates.
There is a sharp regional variation in the
distribution and quality of collection and
sorting infrastructure and improving this
everywhere will be a key factor for the
chemical industry to scale up production of
Stern said Europe is well equipped with
infrastructure for waste collection and
management, but is missing sorting capacity to
give the right quality of feedstock.
Recycling production capacity is also
“All of these will need to be scaled up in
synchronisation to create a successful circular
plastics economy. Recycling requires different
and a lot more cooperation with, for example,
the waste management people,” said Stern.
The chemicals industry in Europe should
cooperate with the waste collection and sorting
sector rather than developing its own
infrastructure, because it is already a
well-established industry, he added.
regions such as southeast Asia this
infrastructure is absent or poorly developed,
giving chemical companies the chance to
Borealis has set up a project in Indonesia
called Project Stop that has introduced waste
management to 30,000 households in one city,
Banyuwangi in East Java.
The project aims ultimately to be
self-financing and to be used as a model in
other cities. All waste is collected and sorted
with plastic which is reprocessed, representing
12% of the total.
Other companies or associations such Borouge,
Nova Chemicals, Nestle, Veolia and the Alliance
to End Plastic Waste (AEPW) have partnered on
The scale of waste marine plastic is huge, so
the project plans to move to new cities working
with the Indonesian government to see how it
can be leveraged and grown.
“It’s important to do something on the ground
to show people what is possible,” said Stern.
SMALL SCALE, LESS
Compared with chemical
recycling, mechanical recycling can be done on
a smaller scale with simpler technology which
involves re-melting polymers at below 200
“It’s a low energy process which is preferable
to chemical recycling where you have to break
down the polymer chains into smaller molecules
again,” he said.
Chemical recycling technologies such as
gasification or pyrolysis will potentially
require more chemical process technology and
bigger scale, added Stern, pictured.
“The industry will be different and a more
heterogeneous picture. Chemical recycling is
less available today but they will be generally
bigger plants – we will learn a lot over the
next couple of years and the industry must be
willing to experiment.”
October, Borealis – which bought Ecoplast in
August 2018 – said it
has completed work on a 60% expansion to
Ecoplast’s polymer recycling facility in
The plant can now process 58,000 tonnes/year of
low density polyethylene (LDPE) waste and came
onstream on 3 October.
“The aim is to recycle flexible LDPE [low
density polyethylene] packaging back into LDPE
for flexible packaging. It’s pre-sorted
post-consumer recycled feedstock with
mechanical recycling to LDPE for film
applications,” said Stern.
Borealis also acquired the mtm group in 2016,
comprising mtm plastics and mtm compact.
Mtm plastics, based in Niedergebra, Germany,
can produce 30,000 tonnes/year of recycled
polyethylene (R-PE) and recycled polypropylene
Sister company mtm compact, based in
Furstenwalde, Germany, processes around 25,000
tonnes/year of waste plastic to produce 24,000
tonnes/year of plastics pellets.
At the K Trade Fair in Dusseldorf, Germany,
Borealis announced it aims to produce renewable
PP through a partnership with Neste, which will
supply renewable propane, by the end of 2019.
Borealis will process this through propane
dehydrogenation (PDH) to produce feedstocks for
its facilities at Kallo and Beringen, Belgium.
Stern said Borealis would be the only company
able to offer segregated R-PP and mass balance
R-PP, where recycled feedstock is mixed with
Interview article by Will