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News article

OPLA 2019
07/03/2019

Circular Economy in Nonwovens - Challenges & Initiatives

Prior to the third edition of OUTLOOK™ Plus Latin America in May, we caught up with Fabiana Quiroga, Braskem's Director of recycling & Webcycle platform for the latest insights on circular economy in nonwovens.

Marines Lagemaat (Scientific and Technical Affairs Director, EDANA): Fabiana, you will join us in Sao Paolo to present on the circular economy as it relates to the nonwovens sector. How have you witnessed this aspect develop?

Fabiana Quiroga: Circular economy is an alternative to linear economy (produce, use, dispose) in which we keep resources in use for as long as possible, extracting the maximum value throughout its use and ultimately retrieve and regenerate products and materials at the end of each lifecycle, beginning a new productive cycle again.

Besides, everything is conceived for the best use of resources from beginning to the end, from the raw material, the product design, best use of natural resources, use and destination for a new productive process.

Recycling is one of the closing processes of productive cycle in the Circular economy. Braskem’s objective is to develop partnership with clients in the conception of new products to enlarge and facilitate recycling and reuse of plastic packaging, invest in new sustainable resins like Green PE made from renewable sources and “Wecycle” Resin made with recycled content and support the development of new technologies, business models and collecting systems, sorting, recycling and material recovery.

The initiatives also include promoting the engagement of consumers in recycling programs through conscious consumption educational actions, the use of tools to lifecycle assessment and the support to actions that improve the solid waste management in other to prevent ocean littering.

As for the nonwovens sector, we also need to identify opportunities to develop the circular economy, beginning with products design, technological development to enable and leverage recycling and engaging the consumers for adequate use and destination.

ML: What are the main challenges in Latin America in further implementing circular business practices?

First of all, to implement Circular Economy anywhere in the world, a transformation in all society is necessary, from the consumers’ awareness about the use of more sustainable products and the proper disposal, to government’s deployment of infrastructure and support to the chain, as well as the industry's manufacture of sustainable products, advance in recycling and manufacturing based in reduced use of natural resources. It is a long-term process but one that needs to be started immediately, with everybody's engagement.

Brazil, since PNRS (SOLID WASTE NATIONAL POLICY) publication, has developed the recycling chain, but we have a lot to be improved in the advancement of selective waste collection and adequate destination, and in the improvement of recycled material quality through the technological and support to the chain.

Today, we already have recycled resin in Brazil, but its use is limited to cost reducing in manufacturing and it has low quality. Our objective in Braskem is to enlarge the use of recycled resin, adding value to the material, therefore improving the chain. In a nutshell, two points are fundamental: recycled residue in volume, quality and regularity and cutting-edge technology to improve recycled products quality.

Another challenging point is the logistic cost to transport the residue. Therefore, the solution is found in choosing the best alternative according to the region. For example, the selective collection and use of manual sorting may be the solution for one region, but others require mechanical sorting.

ML: Is mechanical or chemical recycling more of a challenge?

FQ: These recycling technologies are complementary. Mechanical recycling is popular around the world and it transforms the waste into new plastic products, whereas chemical recycling transforms waste into new chemical products. The mechanically produced recycled resins may present restrictions in applications, for instance, the use with contact with food, whereas the chemical recycling may make it possible to use the residue which could not be mechanically recycled, transforming it into chemicals or into new raw material for resin production.

The chemical recycling process can be used to process flexible and rigid plastic materials, as well as different kinds of mixed plastics and make them a base for virgin resins with no restriction to use as packaging for food and cosmetics. The chemical recycling can also be used to produce raw material and useful chemical products in other chemical industry chains, or even fuel that may substitute fossil basic. However, chemical recycling challenge lies in the economic feasibility of the final product considering the utmost technologies already implemented around the world.

ML: What technical innovation has excited you the most recently?

FQ: Innovation and technology are our priorities to improve the mechanically processed recycled resin quality and advance in the chemical recycling to be able to recycle mixed plastics. To improve quality, we have focused in eliminating barriers as odour, colour, and the reduction of certain properties to permit the use of the recycled material with more value.

An important advancement we achieved was the use of an internally developed solution which allows us the use of 98% of recycled material and a chemical resistance similar to the virgin resin. This solution makes use of a higher quantity of recycled content still maintaining the necessary properties to the use in packaging for cleaning and personal care products.

Another important point is to develop technology through “open innovation” creating an open door to solutions coming from private individuals, start-ups, universities and other enterprises. We are working on two initiatives which enabled us advancements in removing odour and colour. The launching of a challenge in a Global Platform called Innocentive allowed us to select an odour removal technology with a prize of USD30,000. Similarly, our Braskem Labs program picked up a start-up to lead a colour removal initiative.

ML: What other sessions of the OUTLOOK™ Plus Latin America programme are you most look forward to?

FQ: The New Materials and Technologies will be of great interest.

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