In recent decades, as the amount of plastic used in products, packaging and construction has increased, so the amount of plastic in waste streams has also risen. Unfortunately, while plastics have many useful properties, they are very difficult to recycle as they come in many different types and they need to be separated into polymer types to ensure real recycling – upcycling. Most Member States of European Union collect either mixed plastic packaging or plastic bottles only, or they collect rigid and flexible plastic packaging separately. Either way, the plastic will still need to undergo some kind of sorting process if it is to be recycled into new, high-value products. In the project location of Greater Copenhagen (Denmark) it is estimated that plastic waste constitutes some 15% of the residual waste destined for incineration. Meanwhile, in Hamburg (Germany) and Malmö (Sweden) this figure is around 8%; and in Riga (Latvia) roughly 20% of the mixed/land filled waste is plastic waste.
The overall objective of the Plastic Zero project was to reduce wasteful use of plastic made from fossil-based oil, save non-renewable resources and enable carbon neutral energy production from waste. Involving the partner European cities of Copenhagen, Hamburg, Malmö and Riga, three waste management companies and a university, this project would investigate how to prevent waste plastics and increase recycling rates. Information would be gathered from interviews with stakeholders and site visits, plus a review of literature in the field.
Specific objectives included:
> The establishment of a road map for reducing plastic in waste streams with a view to providing inspiration on possible measures to tackle the issue;
> The demonstration and documentation of selected measures for the prevention of plastic waste;
> The demonstration and documentation of selected technologies and methods for sorting and recycling plastic waste;
> The development of initiatives to create new green businesses and growth within the recycling sector; and
> The dissemination of knowledge, good practices, technologies and systems to other European cities.
Regarding policy, the Plastic Zero project is highly relevant for the European Commission’s Circular Economy Package adopted in 2014, which proposes a ban on the land filling of recyclable plastics by 2025.