Waste & Circular Economy

6 May 2019

European cities have circular plans for plastic

The idea of a circular economy for plastic waste is taking shape in three European cities, including two ICLEI Members. Citizens in these municipalities in Spain, the Netherlands and Romania will be the first to benefit from real improvements in waste collection, transport, sorting and recycling.

In the European Union, more than 25 million tonnes of plastic waste are produced each year – a staggering amount considering that less than a third of this waste is recycled and given a second life. Much of the waste is sent to landfill sites around the continent – an environmental issue on one hand, and, on the other, a loss of value to the European economy of €10 billion per year. And, of all the plastic waste we produce in Europe, more than 60 percent is packaging waste from supermarket produce, food and drink, and all manner of household products.

The incentive for Europe to act is clear. Reduce plastic litter to reduce CO2 emissions, improve the value of plastic materials by giving them a second life, and create business and employment opportunities as part of a circular economy. No more “take, make and dispose,” but rather adopt a circular way of doing things where materials can be used again and again while boosting the economy. To do this, investment by the European Commission in innovative, international projects is reaching record levels.

PlasiCircle is one of a clutch of projects targeting a circular economy for plastics and plastic packaging waste. This project is specifically tackling household plastic waste in Valencia (Spain), as well as ICLEI Members Utrecht (the Netherlands), and Alba Iulia (Romania). These cities host different levels of environmental awareness among citizens, and all have different cultures and infrastructures.

Ambitious projects in the three cities aim to increase the volume of plastic waste that residents recycle, improve the quality of that waste, and make waste transport to sorting plants more efficient. They also target improved sorting and recycling processes so that all packaging waste collected from the cities can be used to produce a raft of added-value recycled products for the housing, automotive and residential sectors.

The first of these projects kicked off on 1 May in the bustling Valencian neighbourhood of Sant MarceĊ€lí.

The results so far have been encouraging. Residents of all ages and backgrounds have been signing up for the project, which entails quick and free online registration to obtain a personal smart card.

This card can be used at one of 25 yellow rubbish containers dotted around the neighbourhood – known as “smart containers” – that recognise user IDs, print unique labels for rubbish bags, and keep track of waste sorting for rewards programmes.

This way, residents are not only encouraged to effectively sort their plastic waste, but also deposit bags at their local container with the knowledge that they will later be rewarded for their recycling with a range of incentives created in collaboration with the municipality.

The cities’ projects also tackle changing waste transport. With the use of an Internet of Things (IoT) cloud platform and optimised collection routes, drivers of waste collection trucks save time, costs and CO2 emissions. This is another innovation that will be rolling out in Utrecht and Alba Iulia when the Valencia projects finishes in September.

This project is ambitious, as explained by project coordinator César Aliaga of Spanish technology centre ITENE: “To give you an idea, in countries such as Spain and Romania, plastic packaging collection rates are 75 percent and 59 percent respectively. With PlastiCircle, we want to increase this to 87 percent. For waste transportation, we specifically want to increase the filling levels in the containers, and of course reduce fuel consumption by the vehicles. This makes for a more economically viable way of doing things.”

It is “a real challenge getting the entire plastics value chain to work together,” adds Aliaga, “including waste managers, recycling companies, citizens, plastic manufacturers, researchers, cities and so forth. But the results until now are very promising and I am confident that this approach will be implemented in the EU in the following years.”

Bringing the three cities’ stories to key decision makers in Brussels (Belgium) is also part of the effort to bring these innovations into the mainstream and get policy makers and businesses on board.

The PlastiCircle project will be in Brussels on 16 May for ‘Circular Cities – Innovating to tackle plastic waste’ – a major conference and innovation showcase co-organised by ICLEI Europe. Business, European institutions and circular economy experts will all be there to see first-hand leading innovations for the plastic packaging value chain.

For more information about the Circular Cities conference, click here.