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upPE-T - Upcycling of PE and PET wastes to generate biodegradable bioplastics for food and drink packaging

At present, more than 98% of plastics are produced from non-renewable sources. Some plastics are biobased, however not all are recyclable, reusable, or biodegradable. Polyethylene (PE) and Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) are the leading plastics used in food packaging. The progressive substitution of consumer products derived from fossil fuels is crucial to decarbonise our society, especially in short shelf life packaging. In 2019, 19% of food & drink packaging plastic post-consumer waste was still sent to landfill and 39.5% was incinerated for energy recovery in Europe. A sustainable management of such plastic waste has become a very challenging problem for the recycling industry globally. Zero landfilling or incineration is needed to achieve the circular economy of plastics. The current alternatives of recycling however have important limitations – (i) mechanical recycling downgrades plastic properties, and (ii) chemical recycling for plastic depolymerisation requires high energy & long reaction times to be effective, consequently only 2% of plastic wastes are chemically recycled.

upPE-T will solve these challenges through an innovative solution for the upcycling PE and PET post-consumer packaging wastes by transforming them into a range of biodegradable & recyclable bioplastics (PHBVs) for food & drink packaging manufacturing. The upPE-T project, a Research and Innovation Action (RIA), has received a grant of 7.826.685 € from the European Commission for the Topic ID: CE-BIOTEC-09-2020.

upPE-T will directly contribute to achieve the expected impacts of the topic by: (a) upcycling up to 60% of food & drink packaging plastic wastes (PE & PET) by 2030, (b) highly contribute to increase upgraded waste recycling facilities by introducing an innovative biocatalytic system in the recycling sector, (iii) establishing a viable roadmap to ensure 60% of food and drinks plastic packaging will be produced from renewable sources, (iv) increase awareness among European citizens of products and materials upcycling capacity, and (v) standardisation & certification facilitating future replicability and widest use and ensure market acceptance.

upPE-T is coordinated by CETEC, Spain and involves a total of 20 European partners from 10 countries including 7 SMEs, a Large Enterprise, 5 Universities, 4 RTOs, a Municipality, a Consumers Organisation (UNC), and a Standard Development Organisation. The project aims to achieve TRL 6 by the end of its lifetime and involves all key actors in the supply chain. The project will bring additional positive impacts across Europe in terms of (a) CO2 decreasing (85.6% compared to conventional plastic production), (b) 0.47Mton PHBV/year produced, (c) an estimated 424,000 tons of plastics not sent to landfilling, and (d) creation of 25 direct and 1500 indirect jobs.

Funding source

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 953214.