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Circular Economy – Technological Solutions

Circular Economy – Technological Solutions
by Áine Whelan at 13:57 in Circular Economy, Packaging, Environmental

As someone completely new to the industry, I wasn't sure what to expect from the RWM Conference. In fact, there was such a wide range of topics and presenters that it gave a surprisingly accessible overview of the issues facing us at the moment, particularly when I was able to attend multiple talks and panels on similar themes. Wednesday's panels by John Ferguson of the Binn Group and Dr Dhivya Puri of Fiberight showcased the companies' approaches to incorporating a circular economy ethos into the recycling process. I learned a lot from attending both, particularly about the end products created from recycling both plastics and general municipal waste.

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These two panels presented parallel technological approaches to recycling and its place as part of the wider market. John Ferguson gave his talk on "Recycling Large Mixed Rigid Plastics – Challenges and Solutions" in the morning, and later on Fiberight's Dr Dhivya Puri presented "Next Generation Waste Processing." Both organisations are currently active in the recycling and waste processing sector and developing further projects to improve their processes and success rate, as they view themselves both as waste processors and as producers of a variety of post-recycling consumer products, including SRF and industrial sugars used in insulation.

Mr Ferguson's talk was focused on plastics and some of the challenges in recycling certain polymer types to get a high quality end product that can be used in renewable fuels. One of the solutions Binn Group is working on is high tech improvements on the typical sorting process, and adding additional steps such as chemical sorting to ensure "nonsortable" plastics – such as black plastics that cannot be readily sorted optically – are captured into the process. He pointed out one of the advantages of improving and optimising the sorting process at the point of processing is that it allows households to use a single bin for plastics – if people don't have to sort their plastics by type first, they may be more likely to recycle more things.

Dr Puri focused more on the work Fiberight does with municipal solid waste, which they process into several end products. Her approach to the circular economy was slightly more market-driven, as Fiberight develops some of its commodities in response to the demand of their partners. This supports their lean development approach, as they are in the process of scaling up to a commercial level; currently they have a pilot plant in Southampton, a demo plant in Virginia with a commercial plant to start in Maine in October. Their transatlantic operations allow them to complete their R&D in the UK, where there's better support for it, and attract investment from the US; most of their key equipment is made in the EU and UK.

I found these two talks fascinating, particularly in what I learned about some of the technologies that could help alleviate the "Plastics Problem," and reduce landfill. Their pragmatic approaches may be the way forward in working in a circular economy that not only allows for increased recycling but depends on it.​

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