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European Climate, Infrastructure and Environment Executive Agency
News article22 April 2024European Climate, Infrastructure and Environment Executive Agency2 min read

LIFE in plastic, it’s (not) fantastic

“Planet vs Plastics” is this year’s Earth Day theme, and a call to reduce our global plastic consumption by 60% by 2040. Two LIFE projects are demonstrating innovative methods of recycling and reusing Europe’s plastic waste. 

LIFE Earth Day News
© European Union, 2024

Each year 380 million tonnes of plastic are produced globally, but only 9% is ever recycled, with the majority being burnt, sent to landfill, or polluting our oceans. We have produced more plastic in the last decade than in the entire 20th century. And from bottles to fast fashion clothing, carrier bags, packaging and more, this production rate shows no sign of slowing down. In Europe, less than 30% of the 25.8 m tonnes of plastic waste produced each year is collected for recycling, with landfill or incineration being default options. LIFE ABSolutely Circular and PLASTIC2WAXLIFE are two LIFE projects tackling Europe’s plastic waste, with some unique final uses.

Around the world children and adults have been inspired by the endless opportunities opened up by plastics, last but not least by plastics-based toys. These are currently produced from non-renewable fossil fuels, but companies around the world are seeking sustainable options to reduce the environmental footprint of their toys. LIFE ABSolutely Circular will demonstrate that ABS – the material that many toys are made of – could also be made out of recycled materials.  

At a plant in Germany, the four-year project is converting polystyrene (PS) waste into r-styrene to incorporate with acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS). The result is ABrS, the first pilot consumer product with 60% of recycled content. This is the new material that will be used to demonstrate the feasibility of more sustainable ABS. LIFE ABSolutely Circular aims to stop 1 700 kg of PS waste from being sent to landfill, incinerated, or put into the ocean. Playing with toys made from this new material should ease that guilty conscience parents may have playing with plastics.

Look around your household items; how many are plastic, or how has plastic found its way into every part of our lives? From toys to tyres, clothing, candles, paints and inks, electronics, industrial wax is the material behind thousands of daily products. Produced from fossil fuels, its demand is set to increase significantly, putting the environment more at risk and increasing the pressure to find more sustainable options. LIFE PLASTIC2WAXLIFE is doing just that, providing a new future for old plastic by converting waste plastics into sustainable wax.  

At an industrial plant in Ireland, the three-year project is processing up to 24 000 tonnes a year of waste plastic, saving it from landfill, and 23 000 tonnes of CO2. By replicating this across 20 plants in Europe, LIFE PLASTIC2WAXLIFE aims to process around 480 000 tonnes of plastic a year, or a colossal 2.4 million tonnes by 2030. The wax will be used to develop the daily products we use in our lives, such as raincoats, printing ink, and clothing, but in the knowledge that its material source is sustainable. 

The two LIFE projects align to a number of EU policies: The European Green Deal; Circular Economy Action Plan; Waste Framework Directive; Packaging and packaging waste.   


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