ORLEN to get involved in pioneering circular economy project

ORLEN is joining NEXTLOOPP, an international recycling project aimed to create and commercialise circular food-grade recycled polypropylene (rPP) from post-consumer waste.  The innovative technology being developed is to yield a plastic material that would adhere to the stringent quality standards set by the European Union and the United Kingdom for food and cosmetic contact materials. The initiative will make the production of plastic packaging more sustainable and environmentally friendly.

NEXTLOOPP addresses a critical market gap by focusing on products recycled from post-consumer waste that would also meet the stringent food and cosmetic safety requirements. Presently, the market relies exclusively on virgin plastics derived from petroleum to make packaging for foodstuffs and cosmetic products. Accordingly, a substantial segment of the market is not covered by any closed-loop solutions, which involve the reuse of materials to reduce the consumption of natural resources and minimise waste generation.  By participating in NEXTLOOPP, ORLEN will gains access to state-of-the-art polymer recycling and processing technologies, engaging in preparations for their commercial deployment. The initiative has already brought together 50 international industry players, including L'Oreal, Danone, Muller, Braskem, INEOS and TotalEnergies.

“At the ORLEN Group, sustainable petrochemicals stand as a key focus of our strategic vision. Specifically, our ambition is to emerge as a frontrunner in Central and Eastern Europe in plastics recycling. By the end of 2030, we intend to raise our recycling capacity tenfold, to 300,000 tonnes per year. Attaining this target requires not only financial investment but also a dedicated focus on developing our capabilities, proprietary technologies and know-how. ORLEN’s participation in NEXTLOOPP marks an opportunity for us to pioneer and implement innovative solutions on a commercial scale, bringing closed-loop solutions into untapped market segments. This move is not only aligned with the increasingly stringent environmental standards but also positions the ORLEN Group to meet the expectations of its industrial customers and consumers,” says Arkadiusz Majoch, Head of the Innovative Petrochemical and Petroleum Refining Products Research and Development Office at ORLEN.

A primary challenge in producing recyclates suitable to serve as packaging for food and cosmetic products is the purity of the raw input material. Processed mixed plastic waste usually contains a large admixture of other plastics, enhancing additives and impurities, which – even after the waste stream has undergone standard mechanical recycling – prevent the recyclate from being used for packaging applications as a food or cosmetic contact material. A major quality challenge in the case of recyclates is also to guarantee the absence of hazardous compounds that could migrate from packaging into the product as well as other contaminants responsible, for instance, for unpleasant odours. NEXTLOOPP addresses this challenge by focusing on innovative decontamination methods and advanced sorting processes employing fluorescent markers. PolyPrism, the technology behind the project, enables the identification and separation of polypropylene (PP) approved for food contact from other packaging waste. This method achieves an impressive purity of up to 95% polypropylene after the first sorting and 99% after the second sorting. Another essential element of polypropylene recyclate production is PPristine, a pioneering disinfection technology.

“Having joined NEXTLOOPP, we are venturing into hybrid recycling – a cutting-edge approach that, through mechanical processes, will yield recyclates of a quality comparable to those obtained through chemical recycling, using a method that is more streamlined but also more cost-efficient. ORLEN’s commitment to implementing new technologies and providing robust R&D support will play a crucial role in advancing our strategic goals,” says Bartłomiej Samardakiewicz, Head of the Recycling Project Coordination and Implementation Team at ORLEN.

Pilot tests have demonstrated the efficacy of the NEXTLOOPP solutions, and the project’s participants are currently transitioning them towards industrial-scale deployment. The key objective is to sort out the process inputs using existing infrastructure and technological processes already in place, limiting the need for additional investments in sorting facilities or specialised staff training.

“Closing the loop on food grade recycled post-consumer PP packaging is fundamental to creating a climate-neutral circular economy, which is the driving force behind the NEXTLOOPP project. We are delighted to welcome ORLEN among companies that are actively working towards the goal of extending the lifecycle of polypropylene. This will help reduce CO2 emissions as well as the amount of waste that ends up landfilled or incinerated,” says Edward Kosior, Founder and Managing Director of NEXTEK Ltd. and NEXTLOOPP.

Nextek is a global sustainability and technology consultancy that provides strategic advice to regional and multinational organisations and recyclers. Since its inception in 2004, Nextek has researched and championed innovative strategies and processes within the recycling ecosystem – from the design of recycling facilities to groundbreaking projects developed for governments and major organisations. Launched by Nextek in October 2020, the NEXTLOOPP project focuses on a crucial aspect of the circular economy for plastics – efficient management of flexible packaging waste (FPC) without compromising its utility value.