“Plastics are a convenient material to use, but very difficult to dispose of in a sustainable way,” says Charles-Albert Florentin, Manager of the Luxembourg EcoInnovation Cluster. “The sorting and recycling process is very complex, and it is generally cheaper to produce new than to use recycled polymers.” Finding better solutions for recycling is urgent, however. New EU directives aiming to increase recycling rates are putting pressure on producers. In addition, China, the world’s leading importer and recycler of plastic waste, has recently banned all import of plastic garbage. “The raw materials used are not infinite either,” Mr Florentin adds.
After initial discussions with a small number of firms, Luxinnovation invited all Luxembourg companies working with plastics to a workshop with the aim of better understanding the industry’s needs for improving the plastics processing cycle and identifying possible synergies between different players. Ten companies joined the brainstorming on problems and possible solutions. “The inferior and inconsistent quality of recycled polymers and their relatively high cost are clearly a problem,” says Anja Höthker, Project Manager – Flagship Projects at Luxinnovation. “There is a lack of communication between designers, producers and recyclers, and the recyclability and reusability aspects are often not taken into account in the design of plastic objects. Another issue is that producers add various additives or combine different types of plastic materials for functional or aesthetic reasons. This alters the polymers considerably, and it can be very cost intensive – if not impossible – to recycle them.”
Targeting the complete value chain
The workshop participants demonstrated a strong motivation to tackle these issues together and find efficient solutions. A first discussion on how the difficulties could be addressed yielded ideas that concerned the whole value chain, from raw materials, design, production, distribution and consumption to legislation. Individual meetings are now being held with relevant companies and a follow-up workshop, aimed at determining the first concrete steps, is under preparation. “We have also decided to conduct an in-depth study of the use and recycling of plastics in Luxembourg, as comprehensive statistics and other data are missing,” Ms Höthker adds, pointing out that the project is also supported by the Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology.
So far, the project has mainly targeted members of Luxembourg’s Materials & Manufacturing and EcoInnovation Clusters, but this scope might be widened. “Plastics are used by a variety of sectors that could be interested in the project,” says Mr Florentin. “It could also be interesting to discuss innovative design ideas with the Creative Industries Cluster.”
Greater Region collaboration
Addressing the need for more efficient use of plastics is high on the agenda of the EU, and Luxinnovation is already looking into possible European partnerships. “The political willingness to reduce the amount of plastics used in Luxembourg is clearly there and the government supports the Plastics Loop project,” Mr Florentin points out, “but as a small country we don’t have the necessary volumes of plastic waste to launch a large-scale project. We are therefore talking to our partners in the Greater Region, in particular the clusters we are cooperating with in the EU project GREATER GREEN. A transregional project team is in the process of being set up, and we hope to be able to set an example at the European level.”
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Luxinnovation contributes to the economic development of Luxembourg by fostering innovation, fuelling international growth and attracting foreign direct investment and is supported by: Ministry of the Economy, Ministry for Higher Education and Research, Luxembourg Chamber of Commerce, Luxembourg Chamber of Skilled Crafts and FEDIL – The Voice of Luxembourg’s Industry.