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Recycled plastic packaging: the LIFE EXTRUCLEAN project concludes successfully having eliminated 86% of contaminants in hazardous plastic packaging waste

After three years of research, the European project LIFE EXTRUCLEAN has concluded successfully and has resulted in an innovative industrial process for decontaminating and recycling plastic packaging wastes having contained hazardous substances and miscellaneous.

The effectiveness of this new technology exceeds the conventional washing processes by 70 %, achieving the elimination of 86 % of contaminants. Furthermore, a more efficient process in water consumption, cleaning agents and electricity during the cleaning process has been achieved. The new recycled material could be used in the manufacturing of new packages for the transportation of moderate and low hazardous substances and also non-hazardous substances.

The project, co-funded through the EU LIFE programme, is coordinated by AIMPLAS. Other companies participating in the project are: AIDIMME technology centre, ARVET association of exporters of processed products, as well as the companies ACTECO and ENPLAST, leading the plastics recycling and packaging manufacturing, respectively.

Up to now, the triple washing and drying method has been used to eliminate toxicity in plastic packages having contained toxic substances and hazardous mixtures. This treatment involves the use of large amounts of water, detergents and energy, as well as the generation of wastewater, which must have a specific purification treatment. After this decontamination process, plastics are usually processed by means of extrusion, and it results in a recycled material for low added-value applications due to this treatment affects its performance.

The LIFE EXTRUCLEAN project has developed a decontamination process by using sc-CO2 (supercritical carbon dioxide) in the extrusion process. The company ACTECO, together with AIMPLAS, has implemented the new technology which has allowed simplify the current washing and drying processes previous to extrusion, with the consequent energy and resource saving. The company ENPLAST, has been the responsible for obtaining packages with the new recycled material, and together with AIDIMME, has carried out their validation for the final applications. On the other hand, ARVET has coordinated the dissemination activities foreseen during the project’s duration.

Sustainable and efficient technology

Besides being a clean technology, since it reduces the use of chemical substances, water and energy, as well as the generation of wastewater, this new system allows to improve the quality of the recycled material. In this way, the scope can be extended to others with higher added value, such as the manufacturing of new packages for hazardous substances and miscellaneous, which have been validated. The new recycled material has other potential applications as a result of its better mechanical and organoleptic features than conventional recycled material.