The Northern Netherlands is leading the way in sustainable recycling

It is one of the greatest challenges of the 21st century.  How can we reuse more commodities so that we depend  less on increasingly scarce raw materials? How do we deal with the enormous amount of waste? The plastic that pollutes our oceans, the large piles of car tires for which we have no new applications?
This article about recycling is the third in a series of three articles about the power of the chemical sector in the Northern Netherlands. Also read the articles about Hydrogen and Green Chemistry.
Fortunately, re-usage is becoming increasingly successful. The recycling industry is one of the most innovative sectors. But major challenges remain. After all, the more specifically we can separate waste and the better we can recycle it into high-quality raw materials for new, high-quality products, the less new raw materials we need. In Chemport Europe – the ecosystem in the industrial region in the triangle Delfzijl / Groningen / Emmen – we are working hard on this solution.

All forms of recycling in the region

Multiple forms of recycling are possible. The easiest way to do that is mechanical recycling. For example, PET bottles that are completely shredded into granules. These are then heated and pressed or sprayed into the desired shape under great pressure. Useful for many applications, but not for the food industry. And also for coloured plastics the possibilities for re-usage in mechanical recycling are limited.

Chemical recycling

In the chemical cluster Emmen, part of Chemport Europe, the companies Cumapol and Morssinkhof are already far ahead with the next  technology for the separation of high-quality plastics: chemical recycling. Together with knowledge institutions, they developed the CuRe technology. This innovative technique removes colour and contamination from the original plastics . This makes the possibilities for re-usage much greater, for example for the PET bottles from Coca-Cola.

Thermo-chemical recycling

This next-level technique is also being used in this region: thermo-chemical recycling. In this process, plastics are broken down into elementary building blocks. To investigate this, a pilot plant was recently opened on Campus Groningen. The Campus is the place to be in the north of the Netherlands where knowledge institutions and companies work together to develop knowledge and innovation.
In order to accelerate sustainability even further, and to close the plastic cycle, the National Test Centre Circular Plastics (link in Dutch) is also located here. The packaging industry, governments and other parties together invested more than 3 million euros in it. In the center, research is being done on how to improve the sorting and recycling of plastic packaging. Producers can also test whether their plastic packaging and products can be recycled.
The Northern Netherlands is a hotspot for innovative plastic recycling. We have a strong SME and industrial sector that specializes in sustainable materials and chemicals. We have everything to recycle all possible plastics. It should be clear: the Northern Netherlands is a leader in the development of innovative recycling applications.

The Challenge

To accelerate the innovations in the recycling industry, the region is organizing the Sustainable Industry Challenge. Scale-ups from all around the world are challenged to think about innovative solutions. Teijin Aramid is one of these challengers.
The company makes the super-strong Twaron fiber, which is 5 times stronger than steel – with the same weight. You can find these fibers worldwide in products that must be stronger, lighter and more sustainable. Such as in firefighter suits, bullet-proof vests and car tires. As a company, Teijin Aramid ultimately wants to be circular. For this they look for collaborations throughout the entire chain. For example in the field of recycling. Because the fibers in applications are often chemically linked with other materials, recycling is a challenge. Together with scale-ups, Teijin Aramid is investigating how this material can still be reused so that the company can further reduce its CO2 footprint.