By Elodie Bugnicourt, Innovation unit & H2020 taskforce leader at IRIS

Reaching Month 6, MultiCycle has started to unfold a series of key actions towards its ambitious objectives of upscaling a novel solvent-based process for recycling multi-materials packaging and composites, and around us there are a number of initiatives linked to increasing the circularity of the plastic sector which we will be looking to cooperate with as much as possible. Via its partner Crowdhelix, Multicycle has launched a Helix within the Vision 2020 Network dedicated to Circular Plastics with the aim of clustering all stakeholders with expertise and interests to take actions in line with the EU plastics strategy. The new Circular Plastics Helix, which you can join here, will form the hub of a permanent virtual community where interested participants will be able to follow the project’s advancements, activities, events, and results among many other updates on related external activities, as well as share specific collaboration opportunities.

From IRIS, as MultiCycle coordinator, we are also planting seeds related to this global movement. As an advanced engineering and innovation company, let’s examine how our complementary key enabling technologies in the fields of Circular & Bio-Economy, Photonics and ICTs (Information & Communication Technologies) contribute to circularity in the plastics and related domains throughout their lifecycles. In a context where many people advocate phasing out plastics as an emergency response to solve the massive environmental impact of their current mishandling, but without providing viable alternatives in terms of performances, convenience, lightweight and cost in many cases, we rather argue for making plastic use more circular, and eliminating material leakage from the overall system into the external environment. From our perspective, there are huge opportunities to do this, as illustrated by our increasing number of related projects.

Building on a number of past projects, we focus on renewable sourcing and also often equip materials with biodegradability: for example, DAFIA valorizes fish waste into barrier coatings for packaging and fire retardants, POLYBIOSKIN uses PLA, PHA and seafood waste-derived chitin, etc. in the formulation of new cosmetic, sanitary and healthcare products, and finally, BIONTOP (starting in June 2019) will use whey, fatty acids and lactic acid to deliver advanced biodegradable and recyclable flexible, rigid and textile plastic packaging. To cope with the performance gap with conventional plastics, DAFIA and REFUCOAT among others, enhance bio-based packaging thanks to the use of active compounds. In turn, the new ECOAT project and PULPACKTION’s overall aims are to turn consumer products and packaging into biodegradable, bio-sourced ones (partly based on cellulose, biopolymers, biodegradable inks), and in this area, IRIS mainly focuses on supporting process optimization with dedicated inline quality monitoring and traceability tools.

We are also active in innovations in the area of recycling besides MULTICYCLE. REMADYL (another June 2019 starter) focuses on solving the issue of recycling old PVC with toxic legacy substances, whereas DECOAT develops recyclable by design textile and plastic products. Since one of the main challenges in current plastic recycling is inadequate sorting of the end of life materials, in all these projects, IRIS is delivering tailored photonic systems for waste composition monitoring, extending the current portfolio of optical technologies of the company.

The optimal implementation of circular solutions also requires the use of digital tools. In that respect, MULTICYCLE will generate a Decision Support Tool (DST) for optimising the plastic lifecycle along the associated value chain. ECOBULK is developing an expert DST system for identifying achievable secondary application from available waste across construction and automotive sectors while BIONTOP will result in a DST for eco-designing biodegradable products (structure and formulations) meeting target end of life conditions for biodegradation such as home or industrial composting for example.

Based on these complementary building blocks aimed at tackling holistically the challenges faced by the current plastic industry, we hope to generate more and more synergies between our projects and with new ones linked to the Vision 2020 Circular Plastic Helix where our related network is expected to grow.