What to do with 160.000 tons of plastic and aluminium mix

**In October this year, Enviu and Impact Hub launched the Plastic Fantastic Challenge: a European innovation challenge to reduce plastic packaging waste.

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The Plastic Fantastic Challenge is unique in its inclusive approach – inviting both plastic ‘haters’ and ‘lovers’ to work together towards sustainable solutions in order to reduce plastic waste. The coming weeks, several industry partners will share their cases in which they’re looking for smart solutions in order to prevent plastic waste. A great opportunity to make big impact with your ideas!

Tetra Pak is joining the Plastic Fantastic Challenge to find new applications for the plastic-aluminium mix, coming off their aseptic beverage packaging.

Tetra Pak’s aseptic beverage cartons are on average made of 75% paperboard, 20% plastic and 5% aluminium. On the inside of our aseptic cartons, a thin layer of aluminium, eight times thinner than a human hair, provides vital protection from oxygen and light, keeping perishable food safe without refrigeration. At the same time, the thin layers of polymer, or plastic, prevent moisture getting in or out of the carton and so help to keep the contents safe.

The paper board can be recycled and the paper fibres are used in new paper products quite easily, while the mix of plastic and aluminium (PolyAl) is often considered as low-value residue. Although these leftover materials are sometimes freely available, the business cases for recycling these materials currently have low profitability due to some challenging facts:

– Separating the plastic from the aluminium is complex and requires specific machinery and large volumes which are (not easily available)
-The plastic-aluminium mix can currently only be used for few products after extrusion
-Available material is geographically scattered at numerous paper mills with different processing volumes (20x difference between larger and smaller mills)
-There is variation in the properties depending on where the material comes from, i.e. which types of packages and how they have been processed
-The plastic-aluminium mix is usually moist, and may have parts of paper fibre, and other materials such as metal, sand, glass and wood coming from the household collection streams.
-Logistics costs are high compared to material value. Material is bulky and heavy as it often contains water and therefore more costly to transport

Today, only about half of the globally available plastic-aluminium mix is recycled into new products, not close to capturing the full potential material value of aluminium and polymers commodities. The polymer-aluminium mix has been used in many countries to produce a diverse range of goods from pellets for injection moulding to pressed boards for construction. Separation into two streams of polymers films and aluminium flakes is done in relatively large scale in a few countries (e.g. through gasification in Finland or pyrolysis in Spain). There is however a need for solutions within Europe to create more valuable applications from the polymer-aluminium mix produced in countries where the volumes of used beverage carton collections are still small and where separation is not possible

Case question

How can we make the best use of the plastic-aluminium mix after fibre recycling while maximizing social, economic and environmental benefits? What could such a business model look like?

Solution criteria

– The business model should be market driven and financially self-sustaining
– Solutions that make use of the mix straight after the pulping process are preferred, as opposed to having to process the material into pellets or granulates first
– Applications related to food, toys and medical should in general not be considered

**Basic material data

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Material composition after repulping:

– PolyAl
– Fibre: 1-2%
– Moisture: up to 10%
– Contaminants: 0-5% (e.g. other plastics, metals, sand, stone, wood)

Material properties of PolyAl vs. LDPE:

– Heat conductivity is slightly higher
– Unique and sparkly appearance
– Aluminium content (up to 20%) may affect mechanical properties, but is generally not a problem for extrusion

Can you think of a great solution for the leftover 160.000 tons of plastic and aluminium mix? Share your idea on PlasticFantasticChallenge.org and get a chance to win a € 10,000,- cash prize!

Want to know more about the Plastic Fantastic Challenge? Check us out our website, Facebook, Twitter or Instagram!

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Interesting challenge @emiel, thanks for sharing this here. Hopefully we can find ourselves some time to dive into it!