No one anywhere in the world can now go one day without touching plastic. While plastic has brought so many good things – pace makers, electric cables, food storage – we are breathing and ingesting it, and are harming wildlife and ecosystems and hence indirectly harming ourselves.
We have reached the point where we need to find alternatives to plastic and to reuse and recycle the plastic that is already there instead of creating more. There are many efforts to find alternatives around the world, but it will take a long time. In the meantime, TRANSFORM-CE is working on reusing and recycling the plastic that is already there.
TRANSFORM-CE is an alliance of public and private institutions in four North West European countries that are contributing to a circular economy for plastic waste in these countries. TRANSFORM-CE recognises that recycling and reusing plastic has multiple benefits: we claim our responsibility for our own waste, instead of exporting it to low-income countries; it keeps plastics out of the environment; it diverts plastic from landfill; it reduces the need for greenhouse gas emitting incineration; it stimulates the local economy; and, it creates an easily accessible source of raw materials. TRANSFORM-CE envisions a wide range of long lasting products being manufactured from recycled plastics, starting with outdoor items like bridges, light masts and benches. Many of these products have traditionally been made of hardwood and virgin plastics. According to a Life Cycle Assessment, if these products had been made of recycled plastic, their manufacturing, processing and life cycle would have a much lower impact on the environment and on greenhouse gas emissions than virgin plastics and hardwood.
As part of the project, TRANSFORM-CE will construct two pilot processing plants in the Netherlands and the United Kingdom which will convert low-grade plastics into new products using intrusion extrusion moulding (IEM) and additive manufacturing (AM). The plants will be in the cities of Almere in the Netherlands and Greater Manchester in the United Kingdom. Construction is due to start this year.
TRANSFORM-CE is supported by the Interreg North West Europe programme as part of the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).
Almere has an ambition to use local raw materials. From municipal and urban residual flows to valuable new products. In recent years, options for processing residual flows have been investigated and piloted. The first results are visible at the De Vaart and Steiger business parks.
The Municipality of Almere sees the circular economy as the way forward and is already creating the infrastructure and tools to promote it in the municipality. It already has an Upcycle Centre and works with a ‘living lab’ (the City Lab), experience centre, recycling platform and entrepreneurs to collect residual waste materials for reuse. One of its administrative tools is innovative tenders to give entrepreneurs the space to experiment with working with residual waste flows and to develop earnings models for reuse.
Apart from the beneficial environmental and health reasons that recycling waste brings, there are sound economic reasons too. Recycling waste reduces the Municipality’s costs of collection, incineration and processing, and creates an easily accessible source of raw materials. Almere’s local partner in this enterprise is Save Plastics, which will initially focus on producing products for and selling them the construction industry.
An inspirational example is a tiny house that is being built to be displayed at the Floriade in 2022. The hope is that the tiny house, made entirely of recycled plastic, will dispel people’s reservations about living in a ‘plastic house’ and instead show them that these tiny houses are comfortable, practical and more environmentally friendly than tiny houses made of hard wood and virgin materials.
Given its success to date, the Municipality of Almere is continuing to find ways to increase the percentage of recycled plastics, including the non-recyclable soft and dirty plastics. Its ‘innovation partnership’ with Save Plastics, which has the expertise, will find more uses for this type of recycled plastic in the future and will be a showcase for Almere’s promotion of a circular economy.