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Real-world test for latest plastics-to-oil technologies

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Led by Recycling Technologies (RT), Project Lodestar is one of seven Pioneer Projects initiated and run by participant organisations of the ‘New Plastics Econ­omy’ initiative run by the Ellen MacAr­thur Foundation (EMF).

Project Lodestar is a case study that shows the potential for waste site oper­ators to recycle all plastics by combining state-of-the-art mechanical and feed­stock recycling in an advanced plastics recycling facility (APRF).

The objective of the project was to analyse the benefits associated with designs for an APRF, marrying mechanical recycling techniques with feedstock recycling – also known as chemical recycling or the process of turning plastics back into oil. The aim was to investigate the ability to increase plastic recycling rates economically above those currently achieved and divert plastic from landfill and incineration.

Project Lodestar brought together experts from the entire value chain for the first time, enabling collaboration. It is critical that this happens if the UK is to move towards a circular system for plastics and other materials in order to find solutions to the challenges of plas­tic waste and take meaningful action.

Political drive is a critical motivation for the market players to collaborate on solutions as pressure is placed on the packaging industry to find a way to use more recycled material in its new products.

Recycling Technologies joined forces with leading global stakeholders, from petrochemical companies to waste operators. Partners from this value chain collaborated with research, lead­ing to a design blueprint for a regional APRF utilising mechanical and feed­stock recycling in a single facility.

The original call for collaboration asked for participation to demonstrate a solution that achieved plastics recy­cling rates >90% and that was:

  • Scalable – suitable for small town or large city
  • Replicable – blueprint for anywhere in the world
  • Practical – deals with all plastic waste as it currently leaves consumers
  • Profitable – economically attractive
  • Comprehensive – films, rigids, lami­nates, toys, engineered plastics, black PVC, PTFE, patio tables, food contam­inated, sticky labels and so on.

Three configurations of plant were modelled during a period of two years, with regular online meetings to com­pile and evaluate the data. Inputs were received from all major suppliers of recycling equipment, all covered by con­fidentiality agreements under the EMF. This allowed the use of real-time data from across the breadth of collabora­tors.

More partners joined the group as the results started to reveal significant economic and environmental benefits.

The research for Lodestar used com­mercial market prices, published waste data from Scotland and lifecycle assess­ment in the analysis, resulting in a meaningful guide for councils and waste management companies, not only regarding mass yields but also on the economic and environmental impacts.

In fact, the research found that, com­pared with mechanical recycling alone, an APRF has the potential to increase waste operators’ revenue by 25% and improve the payback on investment in equipment by 11%.

The results from Project Lodestar are helping to guide and develop Project Beacon – development of the world’s first demonstration APRF – in Scot­land, working with delivery body Zero Waste Scotland (ZWS). In its initial phase, Project Beacon is combining RT’s first commercial RT7000 plant with mechanical processing for large rigids provided by Pi-Polymers.

Waste is a global concern and Lode­star has been an international project, with insights being drawn from US waste management company Re-poly and global brands. The localised nature of an APRF enables Lodestar to guide the course of plastics recycling around the world.

Adrian Griffiths is chief executive at Recycling Technologies

More on chemical recycling

Taking part in project lodestar

Participants consist of representatives from Borealis, Coca-Cola, EcoldeaM, ExcelRise, Danone, Impact Solutions, Mars, NexTek, Canadian Stewardship Services Alliance, NatureWorks, Re-Poly, Swire Beverages, Recycling Technologies, Unilever and Zero Waste Scotland

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