The recycling of plastics needs to be better, much better. That requires cooperation from all parties in the chain of production, use and recycling. These are all represented in the three Northern provinces, and Clean North brings them together. Quartermaster Rob Hamer is banking on the energy of companies and knowledge institutions.
"Closing that chain is a huge challenge," Hamer says. But it is precisely in the three Northern provinces that all the companies and knowledge institutions are present to create a circular plastics chain. 'That is why we have the ambition to develop here the circular plastics cluster of Europe.' This is what Hamer is committed to within the Clean North project, which has now been in place for almost a year.
Hamer worked for much of his career as a food researcher, the last ten years of which he was director of the R&D lab at food multinational Unilever. 'Only there did I get involved with packaging - often plastic. It was the time when CEO Paul Polman launched his sustainability strategy. That was the reason I set up the Field Lab Circular Packaging.' For a year now he has been working as an independent consultant in the field of sustainability and circularity.
The Clean North started with an initiative of the province of Friesland but quickly expanded to the entire Northern Netherlands and is now an integral part of Chemport Europe. 'We want an open approach, in which we also look across borders,' Hamer stressed. In the first phase, ambitions have been set, which should lead to companies and knowledge institutions working together to set up circular plastic chains. Governments are also needed in this process.
The challenges and opportunities in plastic recycling are great. 'The Northern Netherlands has a good knowledge infrastructure and many companies in the plastics sector that together can close that circle and keep it turning.
Quartermaster Rob Ham
Already in the first phase, companies were asked to submit plans that contribute to the circular plastic chain. Meanwhile there is a portfolio with 60 projects in which dozens of companies and all knowledge institutions are involved. 'A good example is Nedcam in Heerenveen, which makes molds for polyester boats, among other things. Those molds are not yet recyclable. Nedcam is now investigating with CuRe Technology from Emmen whether they can solve this problem with recycled plastic pellets.'
Through workshops, the companies participating get to know each other and new connections are also created. A project team helps in finding funding, for example by mapping the jungle of subsidy schemes. 'That way we can advise on a good route for public or private funding.' This is part of the second phase of the plan. The goal is to realize a billion in investments over the next 10 years.
By now, four pillars have been identified that can truly address the major challenges. In the reuse of polycondensates such as PET in packaging, the first pillar, a good supply is important. Companies like Morssinkhof and Cure Technology process these into new raw materials. "We have now formed a consortium for this that can close the entire chain," Hamer said. For reuse of polyolefins (PE, PP) packaging, the second pillar, besides mechanical recycling, only pyrolysis is really an option now. 'And that still has a low yield now,' Hamer knows. 'Better sorting and cleaning can increase the usability of the collected material for chemical and mechanical recycling.
Next is the pillar of plastics and composites in building and construction. Construction is already using more and more plastics, for example in window frames and pipes, but wants to become much more sustainable. 'For this, it is necessary to develop new materials and building elements that are designed to last, but can then be reused.' Finally, there are polycondensates in textiles. Hamer: "Recycling of the plastics in textiles is largely unexplored at the moment. But it does involve huge quantities of clothing and carpets. In this we have sought cooperation with partners from the textile industry in Overijssel.'
The challenges and opportunities in plastic recycling are great. 'The Northern Netherlands has a good knowledge infrastructure and many companies in the plastics sector that together can close that circle and keep it turning. Moreover, there is the will to work together. That energy in the region is the origin of this whole process,' says Hamer. The potential is great, as evidenced by the ambitions expressed for the next ten years: an annual growth of 5 percent for the companies, attracting 150 small and 5 large companies in the circular projects, one billion in business investments and creating a total of six thousand jobs. Hamer summarizes, "The goal is clean technology for a clean environment.
The beginning is there, and new companies are always welcome, Hamer emphasizes. 'The plastics sector is growing faster than average. Sustainability is also a sensible economic strategy for companies. Only then is your long-term survival guaranteed.'