Indaver converts Willebroek sorting plant for first P+MD contracts

At the end of November, Indaver secured the first four P+MD contracts for sorting and cleaning P+MD waste (Plastics, Metals and Drinks cartons) from the intermunicipal partnerships IDM, VERKO, MiWa and IBOGEM. These are the first contracts during the transition phase towards the more comprehensive collection of household packaging waste. In accordance with the schedule of requirements drawn up by FOST Plus, Indaver has to sort a number of additional fractions from the plastics, known as the ‘P+’ fraction. To make this possible, it needs to adapt its sorting infrastructure at the materials recovery facility in Willebroek (Belgium). After the contracts were formally awarded at the end of November 2018, an Indaver project team started all the different activities needed to meet the ambitious deadline of 1 April.

More ambitious than Europe

Europe is taking up the fight against packaging waste. In April 2018 the Circular Economy Package was adopted by the European Parliament. This comprises a new Waste Directive, including agreements on producer responsibility, and a new Packaging Directive requiring a higher level of recycling.
In Belgium we currently recycle 39% of household packaging plastics. This figure has to increase to 55% by 2025. FOST Plus will realise this European target in Belgium in collaboration with the municipalities, intermunicipal partnerships and processors. They are actually setting their sights even higher than Europe and are aiming to recycle 64% of plastics by 2025. That means significantly more waste will be presented to processors. To ensure the feasibility of the plan, FOST Plus has introduced a transition period up to 2021.

Indaver, partner of public authorities for the processing of packaging waste

Indaver’s materials recovery facility in Willebroek sorts more than 30,000 tonnes of PMD every year, which means it is currently Belgium’s biggest PMD sorting centre. That makes Indaver a reliable partner for local authorities, intermunicipal organisations, cities and municipalities – one that can help them find a sustainable and cost-efficient solution for their waste. At the end of 2018 Indaver received an award from FOST Plus in recognition of the consistently high quality of the sorted materials it supplies. Achieving this high level of quality is of the utmost importance to Indaver, as it is the only way to make high-quality recycling possible and ensure the materials loop remains pure.

Sorting process during transition phase 

During the transition phase Indaver will sort additional plastic fractions from PMD and will modify and expand its installation. Some intermunicipal partnerships will continue to deliver ‘traditional’ PMD for a while. Others, such as IDM and VERKO (from 1 April) and IBOGEM and MiWa (from 1 June), will have their PMD sorted in accordance with the new definition of PMD, i.e. ‘P+MD’. The two processing methods will therefore run in parallel, which has consequences for our organisation. That means Indaver needs to adapt the organisation and general management of the plant. In total, during the transition phase (2019-2021) Indaver plans to sort around 37,000 tonnes of packaging waste in Willebroek every year. For citizens this expansion means simpler instructions for sorting their waste: almost all plastic packaging will fall under P+MD, e.g. plastic film, (carrier) bags, packaging around six-packs of bottled water, margarine tubs, yoghurt pots, etc.

How is the installation changing?

The new plastics to be sorted will be automatically removed from the flow of packaging using wind sifters and optical recognition installations. They will include items such as PET trays, opaque PET bottles, polystyrene packaging, black plastic packaging and plastic films.
Previously, Indaver already sorted PET, but this was limited to transparent blue, green and colourless bottles and containers. PET trays comprise hard packaging, such as cups, pots, boxes, trays, flip-top packaging, blister packs, egg boxes and lids.
Polystyrene is a completely new fraction that it will be possible to put into your P+MD bag. This includes items such as pots, boxes, trays, dishes and lids. One material that definitely has to be kept out of this fraction is expanded polystyrene.
In the past you were also not supposed to put plastic films into your blue bag. Now, in addition to the blue bag itself, various types of films will also be sorted: multipack shrink film, plastic bags for foods, shopping bags, carrier bags, flexible packaging for sandwich fillings and packaging around biscuits and sweets
After Indaver has sorted the packaging waste, the materials become the property of FOST Plus. During the transition period FOST Plus will transport the ‘new’ plastics to mixed-plastic recyclers as a mixed flow of hard plastic packaging and films. In the meantime, FOST Plus will be keeping a close eye on the development of new sorting and/or recycling possibilities.

Plastics to chemicals: thermal molecular recycling

Investing in an appropriate sorting process is essential, but we are also keen to avoid standing still when it comes to new technologies. The ambition we all have is to close materials chains in a sustainable way and to transform waste into new, high-quality raw materials. However, mechanical recycling is not the most appropriate solution for every type of plastic and ‘downcycling’ is not an option for Indaver. 
We are therefore focusing on new technologies based on a chemical approach. Amongst other things, this should make it possible to convert end-of-life plastics into new raw materials for chemicals. For a number of years now, in collaboration with parties including Ghent University, Indaver has been conducting research into how end-of-life plastics can be broken down into smaller hydrocarbon chains. This thermal molecular recycling enables us to produce new raw materials for the chemicals industry. In the future thermal recycling may become one of the methods used to process the additional plastics sorted from the PMD bag.

What will happen after the transition phase?

In the future FOST Plus wants 15 fractions in total to be sorted. When this will be possible partly depends on how quickly FOST Plus can tap into new recycling markets. Since 2018 China has banned the import of plastic waste, which is having a major impact on the European waste sector. However, this ban also presents opportunities: we can keep these valuable raw materials in Europe, create new jobs and invest in new technologies.
Alongside new technological applications, it is possible that a new, bigger installation will be needed to process all the additional plastics. Indaver is keen to invest in such a facility, either alone or in the form of partnerships. In any case, Indaver is preparing to take up its role as a high-quality processor of packaging waste, also after the transition phase, and in this way help make our planet more sustainable.

“Indaver is constantly on the lookout for solutions that will allow materials loops to be closed in a low-carbon manner. The company is an important partner in this process, also when it comes to packaging material, and plastic packaging in particular. With our state-of-the-art sorting infrastructure and growth ambitions in the area of thermo-chemical recycling, we are making the circular economy a reality.”
Alain Konings, Director of Sales & Marketing Municipal Solid Waste, Belgium

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