New bio-recycling channels for food packaging and plastic waste

Photo: Recover

The packaging sector consumes around 40% and agricultural applications 3.5%. After use, plastic waste accumulates in natural environments due to its limited recovery and resistance to degradation. In fact, currently only 31% of plastics entering waste management systems are recycled while the rest is incinerated or disposed of in landfills.

In addition, the microplastics produced by the decomposition of this waste pose an additional environmental problem. In the agricultural sector alone, plastic mulch is suspected to be a major source of microplastic accumulation in terrestrial environments.

The overall objective of the RECOVER project is to demonstrate and scale new biobased approaches to address the problem of agri-food plastic waste (AWP) and to help solve the problems of contamination of agricultural fields by non-biodegradable agroplastics. and providing sustainable management pathways for the non-recyclable packaging fraction of municipal waste management systems. To achieve these objectives, it is proposed to use innovative biotechnological solutions by combining microorganisms, new microbial enzymes, earthworms and insects in order to biotransform the waste streams of non-recyclable plastic packaging and films. agricultural. In addition, new raw materials for biofertilizers in the primary sector and the biobased industry (chitin and chitosan) will be produced accordingly. The project paves the way for future exploitation and supports EU efforts to switch to circular models and tackle plastic pollution.

The RECOVER project revolves around a new concept where several species collaborate in an integrated and complementary way either to biotransform complex plastic mixtures into products, or to biodegrade and eliminate them completely. These biotechnological tools are:

Enzymes, developed using a synthetic biology approach.
Microbial consortia that attack mixed plastic waste under different environmental conditions.
Insects and earthworms whose natural ability to ingest and digest plastics will be enhanced by strengthening their natural microbiome with probiotics.

These biotechnological processes will be developed according to two scenarios: ex situ treatment in insect breeding rooms or composting reactors of non-recyclable plastics from municipal solid waste or agricultural plastic waste; and in situ treatment directly on soil contaminated with plastics, such as mulch films.

As part of the project, an appropriate waste collection and delivery strategy to the biorecycling plant will be proposed using decision support systems, plastics monitoring tools, equipment and ‘logistics studies. Simple and reproducible conditions that can be reproduced on farms or municipalities will also be established.

The RECOVER project is an innovative research and action that began on June 1, 2020 and will last for four years. It brings together 17 multidisciplinary partners to develop a set of biotechnological processes involving the combined action of new enzymes, microbial communities, insects and earthworms for the sustainable recycling of food packaging and agricultural plastic waste streams, namely food plastic waste. , plastic packaging and waste (AWP) and the remediation of environments contaminated by them.

During the first 12 months, the most common plastic polymers in food plastic waste were mapped and characterized. The logistics chain for their collection and current handling practices have been analyzed and reviewed.
A set of insects, earthworms, microbial consortia and target enzyme families were also selected; and their ability to feed on or hydrolyze target polymers is being tested. In the coming months, the production of suitable biotechnological solutions will be extended and tested in real conditions.

On June 17th, we will have our 12M General Assembly.

In addition, RECOVER has partnered with two other sister projects BBIJU H2020, ENZYCLE and BIZENTE to collaborate at the technical and dissemination levels; it shares synergies with Biorefine Cluster Europe, a consolidated network that links projects and people in the field of developing bio-based resources.

This project received funding from the Bio-Based Industries Joint Undertaking under the Horizon 2020 research and innovation program of the European Union under Grant Agreement No 887648.

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