Coronavirus threatens plastic recycling efforts

Whilst in the middle of executing the PlastiCity project, recycling rates of plastics suffer a major setback. The coronavirus pandemic has boosted plastic waste. At the same time the pandemic has caused a demand drop in recycled plastics. ICIS (the Independent Commodities Intelligence Services) reported a decrease in the demand for recycled material of 20-30% in April and May year-on-year. This has been driven by a substantial fall in the oil prices and thus the prices of virgin polymer, by supply concerns and by a shift in short-term focus away from sustainability.

Due to the drop in demand for recycled plastics, stocks have been piling up at the recyclers' premisses, causing a logistic headache for recycling companies as Van Werven, partner in the PlastiCity project. Additionally, many companies are struggling with a lack of liquidity. Recycling producers typically have lower cash reserves than petrochemical firms and a lot of them have invested heavily following a positive demand outlook before the pandemic. The lack of cash and the burden of debt is placing recycling manufacturers under very high pressure.

Addressing the Bureau of International Recycling Plastics eForum on June 10, Clément Lefebvre, vice-president at Veolia Propreté France Recycling, described the combination of low oil prices and the COVID pandemic as “a nightmare” for the plastics recycling sector. He believed that a legal framework promoting recycled content represented “the only way to ensure people are going to use recycled resin more than prime material”.


Government intervention and a collaborative approach on plastics

In an earlier Steven De Meester and Kim Ragaert, experts in plastic recycling at Ghent University called for government intervention in a sector that has never had huge profit margins but has a huge added value for the climate and the circular economy. Government intervention should be directed to help this sector and reduce our dependence on crude oil. It is not oil, but the accumulated quantity of plastics in our society that should be the raw material for new plastics. Some of their proposals:

  • Make sure the competition between fossil plastic and recycled plastic stops. This is the only way to create a stable market for recycling at a decent price.
  • Accelerate the (European) targets for recycled plastic in new products.
  • Support plastic recycling activities, or set a bottom price for new plastic based on oil.
  • Offer free loans for the relaunch of the economy.

On her visit to Van Werven, the Dutch State Secretary for Infrastructure and Water Management Stientje van Veldhoven backed the need of support for the plastics recycling industry and their role in the greening of the economy.

Aside from government intervention, another way to stimulate plastic recycling is by taking into account of recycling as far back as the design stage. During the Plastics eForum, Andrei Mihai Sofian, engineer at Rematholding Co. SRL in Romania, stressed the importance of co-operation along the plastics value chain to help ensure products were as easily recyclable as possible. Material mixtures in some products rendered them “almost impossible” to recycle, he maintained.

company visit van werven
Visit of the Dutch State Secretary for Infrastructure and Water Management Stientje van Veldhoven to PlastiCity partner Van Werven - still taken from the video

Clouds over the plastic recycling sector

The corona pandemic has interrupted progress on tackling the plastic problem around the world. But we cannot let the temporary pause become an excuse for ongoing inaction. While consumer pressure is not as sharp in current circumstances, ICIS believes it is likely to return as soon as the crisis is over.

However, clouds will remain over the industry for a while because of delayed investments, delayed projects, bankruptcies and post-corona recession. There is also the fear that petrochemical companies could increase production of virgin plastic to stabilise the demand for crude oil. To avoid such scenarios governments and businesses will have to show perseverance and stick to their efforts to reduce single-use plastics and increase plastic recycling rates. 


Local as the new normal

For the PlastiCity project, the low price for virgin materials complicates the chances of realizing new value cases with lost plastics. But there are developments that also provide a hopeful perspective in these troubling times. The latest successes of the project have shown that locally new value cases can be realised. Using lost plastics locally or regionally has multiple advantages, like reduction of transport (costs), relatively clean plastic waste streams, the option of higher quality separation and thus higher quality resource plastics and thus improving possible business cases. Working with local stakeholders could prove to be key in realising higher plastic recycling rates.  



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The Hague introduces the sustainable Cargo Bike

Last July 10, the electric CargoBIke for the collection of so-called lost plastics in The Hague was presented to Liesbeth van Tongeren, Alderman for Energy Transition and Sustainability at the City of The Hague.

The electric Cargo Bike will visit companies to collect their plastic waste. Doing so, the PlastiCity project wants to test the possibilities of making new recycled plastic products from these waste streams. The first such product is the fully recycled face shield that is used in the Haga Hospital.

the hague cargo bike

This unique collection vehicle was developed by the Grondstoffenfiets Den Haag (The Hague Raw Material Bicycle) as part of the PlastiCity project. The aim is to introduce new sustainable logistics concepts for the circular city.

The electric Cargo Bike has a maximum range of approximately 150-200 kilometers, depending on the load. It has a capacity of almost 7m³ and is equipped with an electric compactor, which can reduce the volume of plastic commercial waste by more than 40% to 50%. The Cargo Bike is able to collect approximately 190 kg of plastic waste. It can collect and compress all types of plastics, except hard plastics such as PVC pipes. With a few simple adjustments it is also possible to use the commodity bicycle for the collection of other industrial waste streams.

the hague cargo bike

The Cargo Bike will be equipped with a module to label and recognize plastic. This allows the project to give companies specific advice on how to (better) separate their plastic waste. Better separation will increase the quality of the collected plastic waste and thus the chance of recycling.

With the introduction of this sustainable Cargo Bike, the PlastiCity project partners are marking a new step in the process of valuating and using plastic waste as a raw material.


Article by Gerko Brouwer from Circular Matters

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Comment List

  • plasticityproject_wo81jk July 27, 2020

    Electric CargoBike for the collection of so-called lost plastics – An interesting and good application area – city logistics is far more than just delivering packages!

    I am curious to know how the process of collecting plastic is arranged.
    Does the vehicle and driver wait long periods at collection points and how can people be reached in a limited time?
    Why couldn’t a the collection container alone be dropped on the ground for a day, for example to support asynchronous mode of operation?

From bottle to face visor

On July 10, Liesbeth van Tongeren, Alderman for Energy Transition and Sustainability in The Hague, handed over the first 100 face shields made out of fully recycled PET to Carla van de Wiel, board chairman  at the Haga hospital in The Hague. These are the first fully recycled plastic visors used in a hospital in the Benelux.

The face shields have been developed in The Hague as a new plastics value case for the PlastiCity project. The partners in The Hague have made contact with Leendert-Jan Doornbos from the Green team of the Haga hospital. They established further cooperation with Reprintable, a 3D printing company from The Hague, which found and printed a number of suitable designs via an open source model. After extensive testing for wearing comfort, protection against splatter transmission and hygiene, one out of the three prototypes was selected for further production.


All parts of the visors are made from recycled PET. Despite the plunche in the recycled plastic market, the masks can be developed and manufactured at the same price level of the traditional visors purchased by the hospital. When production volumes increase, we expect the cost and the price to even drop a bit. 

This is one first step to make the hospital's plastic chain more sustainable. Together with the PlastiCity project, the hospital will carry out an internal research into the existing plastic products their type, nature and qualities. It will also make an assessment of which plastics can be offered for recycling. At the same time, the hospital will identify which products can be made from recycled plastic. Based on this research, the plastic chain in and outside of the hospital will be made more sustainable.


Article by Gerko Brouwer from Circular Matters

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From ‘lost plastic’ to EarBuddy

With social and professional activities gradually restarting, wearing a face mask is one of the additional measures to help slow the spread of the coronavirus. Wearing a face mask won’t necessarily prevent you from catching the virus, but it will reduce the risk of transmitting the virus to others.

You’ll see face masks in all sizes and shapes, but most have a traditional structure with elastic loops around the ears. While these loops are practical to keep your mask in place, they are more unpleasant to wear for a longer time. Just ask health care workers. These elastic loops can rub the ears and skin, causing painful friction and irritation when wearing them for prolonged periods.


The FabLab and the Centre for Polymer and Material Technologies (CPMT) at the Faculty of Engineering and Architecture of Ghent University came up with a clever hack: the EarBuddy.

An EarBuddy holds the elastic loops of a mouth mask at the back of the head, thereby reducing irritation of the ears.

This EarBuddy may be a welcome accessory for our students and supervising colleagues, as they are required to wear a mask for 3 hours during the exams. But also researchers and caregivers will benefit from this gadget. 2500 EarBuddies are now produced daily in the CPMT labs.

Prof. dr. Ludwig Cardon

Head of department

From waste to useful accessory

The concept of the EarBuddy is a collective initiative of the FabLab, CPMT and the Green Office of the university. It is designed to be made from recycled polypropylene from (completely clean) empty pipette tip boxes from the labs. In this way, we realize a closed and high-quality material cycle from collection to recycling to reprocessing within Ghent University. This internally recycled polypropylene is a so-called "lost plastic" identified in the Interreg project PlastiCity, in which the City of Ghent and Ghent University work together via the CAPTURE platform to keep more plastics in the circular economy (and away from combustion). The pipette tip boxes are the perfect recycled raw material for injection molding the EarBuddies and are fully sterilisable.


The expertise from various research projects (Horizon 2020 Repair3D and Horizon 2020 PolyCE and the Flemish Catalisti-ICON Hybrid Moulds) was combined to quickly optimize prototypes and 3D printing, design a hybrid injection mold and control everything via a Moldex3D flow simulation. With the practical support of mould builder VDS Technics, it was thus possible to switch from mold design to actual production within 1 week. By combining the knowledge of FabLab-UGent-CPMT, an innovative gadget was produced from sustainable and circular plastic.


This article appeared originally in Dutch as a LinkedIn article by Kim Ragaert.

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Meeting in times of corona

During the last weeks, the Hague team (Ger, Gerko & Esmée) has kept up their routine of weekly meetings and checking in with each other on how their work progresses. Normally, we meet in the city hall which is always packed on Mondays… Working from home isn’t that bad after all…

Nevertheless, as you probably all feel the same, not physically seeing each other is not always easy and can sometimes lead to communication errors. Therefore, we keep extensive notes of our meetings, which is very helpful. Furthermore, we try our best to look for opportunities rather than thinking in problems. 

In the PlastiCity network, we keep on working in our work packages and have online meetings with the other cities in the partnership. Admittedly, it saves us some travel time and travel costs. It even has some informality to it seeing eachother in his/her living room, attic, garden,... But it is dificult to replace real life contact, to brainstorm through a screen, or to have some torough discussions. However, we make the best out of it!

As a result of the corona crisis, everywhere we have seen the demand for (medical) masks rise… The Hague has come up with an initiative to support health workers…. To know more, stay tuned for the 3rd contribution from The Hague!


#Stay in touch!

#Stay connected, like Gerko

telephone booth
Article by Esmée Dijt, policy officer at the Municipality of The Hague

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Low oil prices; downturning plastic recycling?

This article is republished from the LinkedIn article by prof. Steven De Meester and prof. Kim Ragaert, experts in plastic recycling at Ghent University, and Karl Vrancken, research coordinator sustainable materials management at VITO, in name of the research platform CAPTURE.

> Click here for the Dutch version

> Click here for the French version

Low oil prices might seem good news, but from a sustainability perspective some important considerations have to be made. Low oil prices might impede to focus on sustainability when relaunching the economy. One of the sectors on which the low oil price has a detrimental effect is that of plastic recycling. This sector is driven by enthusiastic pioneers. There is still a lot of work to be done in this sector to achieve a fully circular economy for plastics. So what if the companies active in that sector go under because of the current crisis? Dispose of more of our plastic waste to Turkey or Malaysia? And if they don't accept it anymore, then burn it? It would be a big step back in our development towards a sustainable society.

Circular economy is a priority for Flanders. The reuse of raw materials is not only important from a societal point of view, but will also become an important part of economic competitiveness. That is why we urge our policymakers to see this crisis as an opportunity: make the right choices, because these will mark our economy in the coming decades.

Van Werven Recycling
Pictures by Van Werven

If we want to move towards a truly circular economy in the future, we need a strong and competitive (plastics) recycling industry with infrastructure, experience and knowledge in this field. Such companies, often outgrown SMEs and start-ups, do exist. They have been swimming against the stream for years not only to talk about recycling, but also to make it happen. In the midst of the corona crisis, many of these companies are running at a loss. Waste keeps coming, but few buy the recycled plastic. In this way, we risk losing these pioneers of sustainable use of raw materials. And that would put us years backwards in terms of recycling.

For many companies, price determines decisions, not environmental benefits.

The reason is simple. Plastic is produced in pellets that you can melt into almost any kind of product. Those pellets are traditionally made from oil, but you can also make them from discarded plastics, through recycling. When the price of oil drops, the raw material price of new oil-based plastic also drops. However, the price of recycling remains high and depends more on the costs of collection, sorting and processing into pellets. In times of cheap oil, recycled plastic is therefore more expensive compared to new plastic. This trend has been going on for a while, but since the corona-crisis, the price difference increases very fast (graph by Matt Tudball, ICIS). And for many companies, still the price that counts, not the environmental benefit. Cheap oil can therefore be beneficial for consumers in the short term, but it is a detrimental for recycling.

graph by Matt Tudball, ICIS

Some recycling companies may still have some long-term contracts, or treat different waste streams, such as glass and paper. These will be able to last a little longer, but if the oil price and the price of new plastic remains low for a few months or even 1-2 years, these too will have to shut down the plastic recycling activities one by one. We also won't be able to make the necessary investments in the circular economy, something we can't afford at the moment.

Let it be clear. Plastic is a (too?) cheap raw material, and plastic recycling has never been sector with huge profit margins until today, even though the added value of recycling for climate and the circular economy has been proven several times already. Now urgent action is needed to help this sector and reduce our dependence on crude oil. It is not oil, but the accumulated quantity of plastics in our society that should be the raw material for new plastics.

We propose some interventions. Make sure the competition between fossil plastic and recycled plastic stops. This is the only way to create a stable market for recycling at a decent price. Accelerate the (European) targets for recycled plastic in new products. Support plastic recycling activities, or set a bottom price for new plastic based on oil. Offer free loans for the relaunch of the economy.

When we are relaunching the economy, we must give an important place to the reuse of raw materials. And let's make sure that by then we will still have active recycling companies to implement those plans.


CAPTURE, the centre for advanced process technology for urban resource recovery, sees the transition to a circular economy in which products and materials retain their highest possible value as an opportunity. The organisation sets an integrated approach as its goal, both in terms of the stakeholders involved and in terms of knowledge, expertise and infrastructure. Capture is active within three pillars: plastics, water and CO2. Three core partners join forces to this end: Ghent University, VITO and the University of Antwerp.

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Open forum: an equitable, inclusive and environmentally sound circular economy

Future Earth, The Greening of Industry Network and the International Forum on Sustainable Value Chains are inviting to an online open forum on circular economy transition. 

Over the past few months we have justifiably focused on the public health dimensions of the COVID-19 pandemic which has already been dire in a number of countries and is likely to become more challenging as it continues its march around the world. We extend our deepest sympathy to colleagues on the frontlines of the outbreak, to people who have suffered losses, and to everyone subjected to profound disruption.

We also need to consider how the world will likely transform after the crisis. The Circular Economy and its many practices and principles may be primed for adoption and improvement in Post COVID-19 world. If we look a little further down the road, might there be emerging a window of opportunity to alter the trajectory of global development with respect to the circular economy so that it can become more equitable, inclusive, and environmentally sound?

Join us in this open forum on Wednesday 13 May at 12 pm UTC (London 1 pm, Amsterdam 2 pm) about how to plan for a Circular Economy transition that is equitable, inclusive and more environmentally sound – especially with respect to climate change.

As the COVID-19 pandemic touches every aspect of modern society, it is becoming increasingly obvious that the slowdowns and shutdowns may inadvertently enable us to shape a new conception of prosperity and good livelihood. We may even come out of this unfortunate episode with renewed fortitude and commitment to work toward the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals – within an umbrella we have called the Circular Economy. And since we are all living through this unique moment, observing the responses by government, businesses, and ordinary people, it marks an opportune time to explore if these changes can provide leverage points for opening pathways to new developments that can help transform the Circular Economy principles into considering issues such as social justice, vulnerable population concerns, diversity, and climate change.

Points of departure for this conversation might include:

  • Planetary Thinking: Climate Action and the Circular Economy
  • Technology for/against the Circular Economy
  • Whose Circular Economy? Equity, Diversity, and Social Justice

The Forum will be recorded via both Zoom and a YouTube Livestream; your registration for this Forum indicates your consent to be recorded. The recording will be available to both the organizers as well as registered participants, to facilitate coordination on next steps for publications or proposals that might emerge from this conversation.

A follow-up email will be sent to registrants by May 11 with details on the Zoom and YouTube link.

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Green Deal and circular economy as the motor for recovery

This week started with a successful pledging event hosted by the EU. The fundraiser gathered €7.4 billion for vaccines, diagnostics and treatments for the corona pandemic. Some 60 governments, international organisations and NGO's made donations. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen called the event a kickstart to unprecedented global cooperation. "The partners are many, the goal is one: to defeat this virus."

Earlier, when talking about the economic recovery plan, von der Leyen issued an important warning: "We should not fool ourselves. We may be getting a better grip on the corona virus, but we are not getting a grip yet on climate change. The warming of our planet continues. And it will warm even more if we continue to burn fossil fuels."

Indeed, curing the virus is one huge thing, preventing this disaster from happening again is another, which will require curing our economic ills. The economic recovery needs an economic rebuilding. And this rebuilding should be along the lines of the European Green Deal and the Circular Economy Action Plan.

Ms von der Leyen puts it as follows in her video statement: “As we now plan to slowly go back to work and to invest billions of euros to restart our economy, we should avoid falling back in old, polluting habits. Instead, we should bounce back better from this pandemic. We can make our society and our planet healthier by investing in renewable energy, by driving clean cars, by renovating our houses and making them energy efficient. By buying sustainable food, reusing materials rather than throwing them away or producing low carbon steel.“

"This is the essence of the European Green Deal,” continues the Commission president, "The european green deal is an agenda for transforming our economy to make it more competitive and improve our quality of life. We will now also make it our motor for the recovery. By using the European Green as our compass, we can turn the crisis of this pandemic into an opportunity to rebuild our economies differently and make them more resilient. So that we also leave a better place for our children. With the Green Recovery we will come out of the crisis stronger and healthier.

The statement of Commission President  von der Leyen echoes the call for mobilisation by the European alliance for a Green Recovery. This alliance, an initiative of Pascal Canfin, Chair of the Environment Committee at the European Parliament, gathers 180 political decision-makers, business leaders, trade unions, NGOs, and think tanks, commits to contribute to the post-crisis investment decisions needed to reboot and reboost the economy. In their call, they advocate for a new European economic model: more resilient, more protective, more sovereign and more inclusive.


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Corona hits the recycling industry hard

PlastiCity partner Van Werven specialises in creating high-quality raw materials from post-consumer rigid plastics collected from construction waste, industrial waste and municipal recycling centres. However, at the moment, they are hit hard by the corona crisis.

Due to the halting and the diminished production throughout Europe, the demand for recycled raw materials has fallen sharply. On top of that, the reduction in transport movements has broken the 'logistics circle'. As a result, stocks are piling up and storage becomes problematic. Therefore, recyclers are looking for external storage facilities that are licensed for keeping waste materials. Ultimately, the recyclers will have to close the gates due to lack of stock options or because financial resources are insufficient to build up even more stock.

Our recycling infrastructure for turning bulky household hard plastic waste into high-quality raw materials has been built up step by step over many years. This investment is now put on the slope in a few weeks.
Ton van der Giessen

Ton van der Giessen

CEO Van Werven

The situation is putting a lot of pressure on our local circular chain. Nevertheless, while trying to get out of the storm and secure the ship, Van Werven is already looking ahead and is very aware of the need to go circular and local in partnership with every stakeholder.

Firstly, the crisis puts the focus on our health and that of others. Our health is seen as paramount to our social ánd economic wellbeing. Without a healthy workforce, no healthy economy. But that health is heavily influenced by our neighbourhood, our climate and our environment. We will have to keep this in mind when we are 'restarting' the economy. Will we go for a climate-environmental-driven, collaborative, circular and local economy? Or will we keep on using natural resources and at the same time incinerating, depositing or throwing away our materials as if they were neglected or 'lost plastics' whilst still focusing on short-term profits?

Secondly, we notice that the solution to this health crisis lies in solidarity and collaboration. Only when all of us are sticking to the measures, we prevent others from falling ill or falling out. Here, we notice a parallel with the circular economy. In a circular economy, the solution lies in the collaborative management of a chain that involves production, consumption ánd the returning material stream for that production and consumption, in a never ending circle of reuse and recycling. Customers, producers, suppliers, consumers, re-users, recyclers and the authorities: everyone in the entire chain is part of it and must take care of this entire chain.

Thirdly, we have to take care of our planet and so also of our materials during our global chain. This means a different perception and way of dealing with our end-of-life products and materials. There are huge opportunities for all those valuable materials that were manufactured and used so efficiently, instead of having them suddenly become worthless… like lost plastics! If we take good care of our end-of-life materials, as a user and producer, we can keep our chain in a sustainable balance.

Fourtly, whilst the physical globalization is coming to a halt, the focus is switching to the local level. Though there is still a lot of international collaborations around vaccines, we also see shortage of mouth masks and test kits. The question pops up to be more local self-sufficient. The same can be said for circular waste strategies and with our PlastiCity project. We are internationally looking for strategies and solutions to keep, treat and recycle our source material (waste) in the region. We put the focus on end of life (waste) material recycling at the highest quality so that it can be used again and again. And we exchange materials within specialism with return logistics across cities and regions.

The present dire situation offers a remarkable opportunity to take permanent steps with the same decisiveness towards a supportive, effectively executing Flemish circular 'plastics' plan in order to accelerate the goals set for the EU Green Deal. We really should not wait until 2029 to achieve this in 2030.
Peter Brughmans

Peter Brughmans

Consultant to Van Werven Belgium

Rebooting the economy will require a long-term vision of all parties regarding circularity. Innovative and sustainable businesses should be considered carefully when deciding on government policy and interventions. The business model for a local, circular waste economy should be supported by a long-term government vision on waste management. This business model is only viable if the logistics and recycling costs can compete with the incineration cost. And as long as we are burning our waste at an economic cost too low to cover the environmental cost, we will still end up with lost plastics and wasted natural resources. After the corona crisis, we need the help of the government to favor secondary sources over natural primary sources to green our economy!


Article by Peter Brughmans, Consultant to Van Werven Belgium

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PlastiCity partners respond to the corona crisis

At the laboratories of IMT Lille Douai, partner of ARMINES, the staff of the Center for Research, Education and Innovation (CERI) Materials and Processes (researcher, engineer and technician) mobilized to manufacture a prototype of plastic reusable overcoats.
These overcoats are produced using the blow molding press.

Pictures by IMT Lille Douai

The prototype was supplied to the Hospital Centre of Douai last Friday, April 10. The hospital will be carrying out tests to validate the aseptization, before offering these over-coats to other hospital structures.

> Read their Facebook story here

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