At its European site in Geleen, in the Netherlands, where it invited the French press for a preview, Sabic confirmed the start-up at the end of this year of its chemical recycling plant, built in partnership with Plastic Energy [1]. The plant will produce circular polymers from used plastic that would otherwise have been destined for incineration. These polymers are accredited by the ISCC Program (International Sustainability and Carbon Certification Plus).

A pilot project for Origins

These new food contact grade polymers from Sabic’s "advanced recycling" process were used in a world first by Origins, an Estée Lauder brand, to produce the tube for Origins’ global bestseller, Clear Improvement Active Charcoal Mask.

The tube was made from polyethylene-PE and the cap from polypropylene-PP, both from Sabic’s certified circular technology. Launched last year as part of a joint initiative with Albéa, the development meets The Estée Lauder Companies’ sustainable packaging goals, including increasing the amount of post-consumer recycled (PCR) material. The strategic partnership will reinforce Origins’ commitment to convert at least 80% (by weight) of its packaging to recyclable, refillable, reusable, recycled or recoverable solutions by 2023. Origins Natural Resources’ long-term goal is to convert all of its face mask tubes to recycled plastic by 2023. "Through the use of this innovative technology, Origins, The Estée Lauder Companies, Sabic and Albéa are pushing the pace of development needed across the value chain to drive a circular plastic economy," confirmed the Saudi-based chemist.

The future belongs to chemical recycling

At its Dutch site, Sabic has a circular plastics pilot unit that has been in operation for two years and an R&D laboratory to validate its customers’ developments. Other cosmetic brands are expected to use these circular plastics for their future packaging. L’Occitane en Provence recently introduced a new range of tubes made from "recycled content containing Tacoil from the Plastic Energy company".

Tacoil is also produced in Geleen, where the production cycle will be organised into three units. After dissolution, the used plastics, mainly from the Benelux, will be depolymerised by Plastic Energy in a thermal anaerobic conversion process at 600°C, with a treatment capacity of 20,000 tonnes.

This process breaks polymer molecules in two: one part is converted into gas to power the plant, and the other goes to the Pyrolysis purification unit, from which the resulting recycled oil (Tacoil) is then directed to the Sabic steam cracker, which uses it to produce the circular polymers of its Trucircle portfolio. Based on existing flows, and when properly separated upstream, pyrolysis has an efficiency of around 70-80%, reported Sabic.

For those who doubt the quality of chemically recycled polymers, Sabic says its process "always relies on a sound sorting system prior to converting the used plastic into a high-quality raw material." It can be used to recycle a mix of polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP), polystyrene (PS), including, for example, cosmetics and multilayer packaging.

Reducing carbon footprint

Sabic uses "a mass balance accounting system to trace the flow of materials along a complex supply chain, from the feedstock to the final product, following predefined and transparent rules. These rules then define the volume of product that can be classified as circular." The process also saves CO2, according to the chemist. "Each tonne of certified circular polymer produced from recycled mixed waste plastic (rich in polyolefins) diverted from incineration with energy recovery can avoid about two tonnes of CO2 emissions, throughout the production process," specified Sabic.

The company conducted a life cycle assessment (LCA) [2], the results of which indicated a reduction of up to 2 kg in the greenhouse gas footprint per kilogram of PE or PP resin based on the energy recovery of used plastics.

For its part, Plastic Energy, which already carries out chemical recycling in Spain at Seville, is continuing its development on the Spanish site with TotalEnergies and aims to commission a unit capable of processing 33,000 tonnes of post-consumer plastic waste by early 2025. In France, the company is announcing, with the same partner, the opening of a 15,000-tonne plant on the Grandpuits site by 2023, and with ExxonMobil, a 25,000-tonne plant, under construction, on its Gravenchon petrochemical site.