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Warwick turns up the heat in the war on plastic waste

A solution to the problem of domestic plastic waste being poured into landfill sites is being developed by engineers at the University of Warwick.

Millions of tonnes of plastic waste are dumped in EU landfill sites or incinerated each year, with only a small fraction being recycled. Household waste is a particular problem since so many different types of plastic are thrown away that processing the waste becomes uneconomic.

Now Warwick engineers are working on a system that would allow mixed household plastic waste to be reused.

Using a particular type of chemical reactor, called a fluidised bed reactor, which has been adapted for the purpose, the mixed plastic waste is heated rapidly and turned into a liquid. The liquid can then be further processed to separate out the different chemical compounds of the original plastics, as well as other valuable chemicals.

A pilot project that successfully demonstrated the technology has now been completed and the team is planning to develop a full-scale demonstrator model in partnership with a UK waste processing company that will allow them to prove the system’s commercial usefulness.

The reactor can be designed to be sufficiently small scale to be installed at local waste collection and processing sites, avoiding the need for bulky plastic waste to be transported large distances. Once the plastics have been treated in the reactor, a tanker can collect the liquid and transport it to a central refinery where the different chemicals are extracted and sold for reuse.

Kevin Marks, Business Development Manager at Warwick Ventures Ltd., which is assisting with the development of the project, says: “There are currently no commercial recycling plants that can deal with domestic mixed plastic waste, so the system we are developing will be the first of its kind in the world. In the UK alone, over 2 million tonnes of household plastic waste is produced each year. Around 90% of that is thrown into landfill or incinerated and EU targets on landfil reduction are not being met. Our system is a clean and cost effective alternative to landfill or incineration and has huge potential to help meet those EU targets.”
Further information:
Kevin Marks
Business Development Director
Warwick Ventures Ltd.
k.t.marks@warwick.ac.uk
44 (0) 2476 575491