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Advanced Recycling Technologies: Transforming Waste into Opportunity

How can these technologies complement traditional recycling efforts while helping to meet the growing demand for recycled content in packaging?

Tamsin Ettefagh, PureCycle
Tamsin Ettefagh, PureCycle

Tamsin Ettefagh, Chief Sustainability Officer/Chief Commercial Officer at PureCycle, explains PureCycle technology in advance of the Packaging Recycling Summit, which will be held this September 16-18 in Anaheim. Learn why Ettefagh is a proponent of various advanced recycling technologies and says, "we need a blend of technologies that will lead us to lower our carbon footprint while bringing a circular solution to plastics."

More information on the event can be found here.

KO: Please briefly tell us about your role at PureCycle, and the path that brought you there.

TE: It is and has been an evolving role. When I started, I served as a spokesperson for PureCycle, who also managed sustainability for the company as CSO. With our plant now operational, I have shifted more of my focus to the commercial aspects of the business. I also work with our communications and government relations teams in regards to sustainability.

KO: The term “advanced recycling” includes a number of different methods that can be used to transform plastic waste into new plastics. Where does PureCycle fit into these methods?

TE: The below graph from The Nova Institute helps explain the various methods of advanced recycling. PureCycle uses a solvent-based dissolution process that is a form of physical recycling.

Disssolution uses a solvent to dissolve the polymer as we do with polypropylene (PP). We then filter off the non-dissolved contaminants such as additives, colorants, other polymers, and mineral fillers. This leaves the purified PP and sovent at the end of the process. We then recycle and reuse the solvent. The like-new polypropylene is returned to a solid state, extruded, and pelletized.

Oftentimes, we are confused with solvolysis, which uses a solvent to create a chemical reaction. The PureCycle process does not alter the chemical chain of the polypropylene and because of that, we can offer an energy savings and carbon emissions reduction when compared to virgin polypropylene production.Pure Cycle

KO: Why is advanced recycling often considered a counterpart to traditional mechanical recycling?

TE: Mechanical recycling is a great choice, due to its carbon footprint, but it is limited in the quality of the material that is produced. Advanced recycling technologies, like PureCycle’s, can be a great complement to mechanical recycling to help improve the recycling rate of plastics and keep more of it in the circular economy.

KO: Advanced recycling has seen some challenges to overall acceptance. Is that changing, and what needs to happen to speed up progress in this industry?

TE: The perception is that all chemical or advanced recycling is the same. There needs to be a further understanding of the various technologies and where they can have the largest impact on recycling rates and the circular economy.

Education on the various technologies and coverage of the successes will help to speed up the acceptance of advanced recycling. When the technologies are lumped together in negative news stories it creates a challenge for all of us.

There is also speculation on the costs to build and the economics of the technology. A true concern for all advancements is that the cost will not be absorbed by industry.

KO: We are excited to have you on the advanced recycling panel at the September 2024 Packaging Recycling Summit.  What do you hope to convey during your session, and what kind of conversations or collaborations do you hope to see take place during the Summit?

TE: I hope to convey the differences between all technologies that are considered advanced and not just chemical. The need for improved quality is the only way to grow plastics recycling to a competitive level of other commodities that are used in packaging.

I also want to share my support for other technologies and why. We cannot fix our overconsumption of carbon with one solution. To me, our biggest issue is the overconsumption of carbon. There is not one technology that fits all needs, but rather we need a blend of technologies that will lead us to lower our carbon footprint while bringing a circular solution to plastics.

More information on the Packaging Recycling Summit can be found here.





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