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“An ambitious project with clear, consistent targets. We can deliver!” – César Aliaga on a critical year for PlastiCircle

14 January 2019

As the PlastiCircle project enters its most important year, project co-ordinator César Aliaga gives the lowdown on concrete targets and big plans for 2019 - when the team takes its innovations to pilot communities in Spain, the Netherlands and Romania.

PlastiCircle is one of a clutch of European Commission-funded initiatives aiming at a circular economy for plastics. What did this project set out to achieve specifically?

PlastiCircle aims to improve the quality and quantity of the packaging waste we collect, in order to boost recycling and also turn this waste into value-added products. These products might be foam boards, automotive parts, bituminous roofing membranes, garbage bags, asphalt sheets, roofing felts and urban furniture of various kinds. Now, packaging represents more than 60% of the total plastic waste generated in Europe, so we need this approach in order to achieve a circular economy for plastics more generally.

But with PlastiCircle, we also have more specific targets for the project. What we also want to achieve is to boost collection rates, the efficiency of waste transportation, the efficiency of waste sorting, and of course plastic recovery rates in Europe.

To give an idea, in countries such as Spain and Romania, plastic packaging collection rates are 75% and 59% respectively. With PlastiCircle, we want to increase this to 87%. For waste transportation we specifically want to increase the filling levels in the containers, and of course reduce fuel consumption by the vehicles. This makes for a more economically viable way of doing things.

In terms of sorting packaging wastes at the sorting plants, PlastiCircle has the target of reducing material losses in sorting to less than 20% (whereas the average in Europe today is 25%). We also aim to improve precision in sorting to more than 95% - something which Europe isn’t achieving at the moment.

And of course PlastiCircle has targets for the inclusion of recycled plastics in new products. For example, in Europe, 79% of the PET we use is recycled – PlastiCircle wants to bring this up to 85% when we are making our foam boards and automotive parts. The same applies for other waste fractions. In Europe, 43% of PE film is recycled plastic. When we make garbage bags and roofing membranes with this fraction, we want the recycled content to be 50%. So this really is an ambitious project all round, with clear, consistent targets.

What's so innovative about PlastiCircle? What added value does this project bring to the table?

The innovation in PlastiCircle is structured in four areas: collection, transport, sorting and recycling. In collection we are developing a smart container able to identify the user and compensate his or her performance in waste separation. In transport we are implementing new technologies to optimise the route taken by driver, in addition to” truck traceability” and external communication through a cloud platform.

In sorting, the project is working on new technologies able to sort even more typologies of plastics and do this with higher efficiencies (these technologies include NIR, SWIR, THz push broom scanner, whisk broom scanner, film-stabilising conveyor).

Finally, collected and sorted plastics will be used for new applications which currently use other higher quality plastics. The innovation here is to use post-consumer plastics for the manufacturing of the added-value products I mentioned previously – from automotive parts to garbage bags to urban furniture.

The first phase of PlastiCircle is almost over, with pilot projects being prepared. What is PlastiCircle going to do in its three European pilot cities?

PlastiCircle is going to test the complete approach on collection and transport in the three pilot cities: Valencia, Utrecht and Alba Iulia. Moreover, the material collected will be used for the subsequent stages of sorting and recycling developed within the project. Therefore, pilots will be a real validation of the technologies and processes being developed in the project. It should be noted that the participation of citizens is key for the pilots and therefore we are working on the preparation of a strong communications campaign.  

What are the most challenging aspects of running this innovation-driven project?

PlastiCircle is a very motivating project since it brings solutions to problems that are very well known – such as environmental problems associated with plastic waste. But it is also a real challenge getting the entire plastics value chain to work together; including waste managers, recycling companies, citizens, plastic manufacturers, researchers, cities and so forth. But the results until now are very promising and I am confident that this approach will be implemented in the EU in the following years.

Once the pilots in Valencia, Utrecht and Alba Iulia are completed, will further European cities be able to adopt PlastiCircle technologies and innovations to tackle plastic waste?

We have a “follower city” within the project: Velenje in Slovenia. This city will help the project to spread the results in central Europe. Moreover, we are receiving continuous contacts and queries asking about the results of the projects, so I am confident that PlastiCircle can really represent a revolution in plastic waste treatment since many stakeholders and cities are just waiting for the results to be ready to be implemented.

What does 2019 hold in store for PlastiCircle? What are the next steps in this project?

2019 is really a promising year for PlastiCircle since we are going to start the first pilot in Valencia in April, which will be the reference for the next pilots in Utrecht and Alba Iulia. Waste collection will take place in Valencia’s pilot neighbourhood, San Marcelino, between April to September, and at that point we will send the waste materials collected to project partners Picvisa and Axion (for sorting and recycling respectively). This first pilot will be crucial in laying the groundwork for the other pilots, and of course an effective campaign to engage citizens to take part in this pilot will be vital.

The same will apply for our efforts in Utrecht, starting in August this year, and for Alba Iulia, where we will launch the pilot in December.

Finally, in 2019 we will also be finishing some developments in the four innovation areas of the project so that we will be able to offer new results to the European Commission. The expectations are high, but we are confident we can deliver!


“Circular economy is here to stay,” EU policy expert tells PlastiCircle

8 January 2019

If 2018 was a whirlwind year in Brussels for the circular economy of plastics, 2019 promises to be very different with a changing of the guard at the European Commission and the European Parliament. To take stock of the situation for plastics in Europe, caught up with Annika Hedberg, senior policy analyst at the Brussels-based European Policy Centre (EPC).

Why did the circular economy of plastics make it so far up the EU agenda in 2018?

To some extent, this came as a surprise. For this European Commission, looking back to 2014 and the the start of the term, circular economy in general was not a priority in the beginning. It is great to see how big the topic became in the end, and how much effort the Commission put into taking the agenda forward. Civil society certainly played an enormous role in this. If it were not for civil society, I don’t think we would be where we are today and circular economy would not have become such a priority.

Addressing the plastics challenge gained traction undoubtedly because at a high level in the Commission, it was recognised that there would be public buy-in for doing more to address the challenge. The media and the public have shown great interest in the topic this year. Thus, for the Commission, this was probably seen as an “easy win” with European citizens.

When we look at the Single-use plastics Directive, and how quickly the EU institutions came to an agreement on this… it is quite impressive and remarkable that they were able to reach an agreement by December. This demonstrates political buy-in for action. At the same time, obviously the devil is in the detail and the implementation of the Directive will be another story. Overall, the public support and the political interest for “easy wins” help to explain the push for action.

What were the main highlights from 2018 in this regard?

On the circular economy agenda, plastics were of course the number one topic in 2018. The EU Plastics Strategy [January 2018] was hugely important, with a lot of hopes pinned on that. In addition to the focus on single-use plastics, the Commission invited industry to put forward voluntary pledges on the uptake of recycled plastics. The Commission’s recent initial evaluations of the pledges show that the pledges will most probably not be enough: more needs to be done to develop a market for recycled plastics and the pledges may need to be coupled with additional, possibly regulatory, measures. What was not yet properly addressed in 2018 was the question of micro-plastics, as the work on this is ongoing.

In 2019, what comes next in the Brussels bubble for the circular economy?

The issue with the policy agenda in Brussels in 2019 is that everyone is gearing up to finalise this term – this Commission, this Parliament. The Parliament is starting to prepare for the spring elections, and the different departments in the Commission are starting to reflect on their agendas and suggestions for the next Commission.  So whatever needs to happen this term must happen now! The year 2019 is mainly a period of reflection on the wishes for the next Commission and the next Parliament.

On micro-plastics, the European Chemicals Agency is looking into this and the expectation is that it will release a restriction proposal on microplastics in the beginning of 2019. When exactly this will happen and what the following steps will be, we shall see. The time is running out for bringing substantial new proposals for debate this term.

However, in getting across the messages on political priorities for the next Commission and the Parliament, 2019 is important. It is important to ensure that there is buy-in and understanding that circular economy is here to stay and more needs to be done to get that transition going. And of course there are issues that this Commission has not been able to consider. One such issue is the role of digitalisation in supporting the transition to the circular economy – something we are working on at the European Policy Centre. The Commission itself has recognised that it has failed to address this. So now is the time to start having that discussion; what it is that we want the next Commission to look at and prioritise next term.


Ecoembes’ ‘TheCircularLab’ to Host Latest PlastiCircle Meeting

3 January 2019

The latest general meeting by the PlastiCircle consortium will be held in Logroño, Spain, later this month, as the team is welcomed to Europe’s first innovation centre on the circular economy.

On 22-23 January 2019, the PlastiCircle team will be hosted by Spanish recycling and eco-design organisation Ecoembes – and specifically at ‘TheCircularLab’ located in Logroño in the Rioja region.

TheCircularLab by Ecoembes is the first European innovation centre focused on the circular economy, and since its relatively recent creation in 2017, has been dedicated to the study, conception, testing and application of best practices in packaging reuse and recycling.

One of the PlastiCircle consortium partners, Ecoembes will host a two-day meeting by the PlastiCircle team, aimed at updating the consortium as a whole on project developments and planning the next steps in the PlastiCircle journey.

Aside from regular updates on the project ‘work packages’ or constituent parts, the team will also meet with the PlastiCircle advisory board and innovation committee – both of which endeavour to bring greater strategic focus to the project and boost its presence on the European circular economy scene.

Stay tuned for live updates of the meeting via Twitter @circ_economy, and for more information here on

Valencia Citizens Take Active Role in PlastiCircle Innovations

5 November 2018

The neighbourhood of San Marcelino (Sant Marcel-lí) in Valencia, Spain, has hosted an interactive workshop on better recycling of urban waste – part of a PlastiCircle initiative to boost local participation in the project’s many innovations.

On 23 October 2018, more than 30 people who live or work in the San Marcelino area linked up with PlastiCircle to contribute ideas on better waste separation and recycling in the neighbourhood.

San Marcelino will be the first of three European pilot neighbourhoods for the PlastiCircle project, so the consortium is eager to hear how citizens are separating their waste, and what ideas they have for the innovative ‘smart containers’ PlastiCircle is developing to collect plastic waste before it is transported from the area for further sorting and recycling.

At the workshop, citizens called for a more inclusive process in the design of PlastiCircle’s plastic waste containers, to better reflect the needs of the community. Neighbourhood representatives also echoed project leaders’ calls for economic incentives to encourage recycling. These aspects are intended to be fully integrated into the PlastiCircle project – not only in Valencia, but also in the other pilot sites in Alba Iulia in Romania, and Utrecht in the Netherlands.

Local people firmly welcomed the arrival of PlastiCircle in the neighbourhood, saying the project was both “positive and necessary” to improve recycling processes there. But citizens admitted that ignorance of good waste separation practices was hampering efforts in the community.

To combat this, the workshop’s various working groups were clear on the need to invest more time and resources in training citizens, with a special emphasis on dissemination of knowledge within colleges and educational institutes.

“It’s important that citizens are aware of the issues faced by public administrations, and vice versa; putting ourselves in others’ shoes helps us come to a consensus,” said Natalia García from workshop co-organiser SOSTRE.

But waste separation was only one aspect addressed by the workshop. During discussions, working groups were also set up to look at plastic waste containers and citizen reward systems for good separation.

Such incentives might include reductions in various public administration fees, direct discounts at shops in the neighborhood, discounts for municipal public transport or leisure services, and cut-price cinema or theatre tickets.

Workshop participants also had ideas for boosting overall citizen participation in the pilot, especially with smart solutions. Personal ID cards and the use of mobile applications to consult waste collection points could identify those who recycle most often, so they can then benefit from incentives and rewards.

Organised by PlastiCircle partner Las Naves and SOSTRE, the workshop was part of a series of events under the auspices of Valencia Canvia Pel Clima.