Interview with ECOPLASTEAM, Green Alley Award Finalist 2018
Recycling of waste consisting of multiple layers like plastic and metal is still a challenge for the circular economy. Globally, counting only the polylaminated waste from food containers like Tetrapak, there are over a million tonnes per year that can only be recycled partly. The Italian startup Ecoplasteam invented a new process capable of recycling 100% of aluminium packages and all of their components. Instead of separating composites of plastic and aluminum layers in a complex process, the Italians have simply developed a new material from both components that is just as valuable as primary raw material. Now, Ecoplasteam got nominated as one of the six startups for the Green Alley Award 2018, Europe’s first startup prize for the circular economy. Find out more about this shiny new super-material in our interview.
# You have found a new way of recycling packaging that consists of plastic and aluminium layers, which is commonly known as Tetrapak. What is your innovation in the process?
Our main innovation is in a new process that does not try to separate the plastic layers from the metal one (aluminium), but merges them, by mechanical treatments, to obtain a new plastic material, EcoAllene™, with qualities equivalent to those of the “virgin” plastic materials.
# Tetrapak was invented in the 1950s, producers have known for a long time that the multilayers of their product are difficult to recycle. How did you come up with this solution now?
There are many reasons why it took so long to find a completely satisfying solution. In general, environmental impact awareness has permeated our culture quite recently.
Regarding the specific problem of recycling polylaminates, the traditional approach was to manage the different components separately: this was successful for paper (75% of the polylaminates), but not for plastic and aluminium (25% of the polylaminates, but with far more environmental impact than paper). Our idea was to reverse the paradigm, not separating plastic and aluminium, but merging them to obtain a new material.
Our solution was designed more than 10 years ago, and was already tested by a pilot plant. Maybe, with more collaboration by the producers of this type of packaging, it could have already been fully implemented.
# What is the quality of your material EcoAllene like and how can you guarantee high standards?
EcoAllene™ has mechanical and chemical properties equivalent to those of its competitor “virgin” materials, like polyethylene or polypropylene and, unlike many materials from recycling processes, its properties are constant through several batches of production. It can be coloured (another uncommon quality for a secondary raw material from recyclate), and it has a pleasant surface feel as well as a pleasant visual appearance thanks to the “glitter” effect of its aluminium particles. It is traceable and 100% recyclable, like a real circular economy material should be. Last but not least, it can be produced and sold at competitive prices, in comparison to its competitor materials, both virgin or from recyclates.
The quality standards and constancy can be achieved thanks to the constancy of the main input material (a by-product coming from the production of paper from recycling) and to our knowledge and control of every detail of the transformation technology.
# Can you tell us more about the application of the material? How was feedback on the material from potential producers?
The main potential applications of EcoAllene™ are in the sectors of packaging, of objects and gifts, of household, leisure and sports, of building and construction, of furniture and interior design (another uncommon application for a material from recyclates), and even of automotive and other sectors demanding high mechanical and physical quality standards.
The demand by our potential clients is very promising, and it is remarkable that for many of them it has lasted since they received the first demos from the pilot plant five years ago.
# For me circular economy means…
… give concreteness to statements and slogans about reuse, recycling, traceability. What we are doing now.
Find the interviews with the other finalists of the Green Alley Award 2018 here: