Reduced plastic waste, fewer CO2 emissions and less use of fossil raw materials: to achieve this, TNO is conducting independent research into circular plastics, from innovations for new plastic product designs to sustainable technologies for recycling plastics.
Due to its versatile properties, such as strength, flexibility and low weight, the use of plastic continues to increase. Between now and 2050, this usage is expected to rise from 350 million tonnes to more than one billion. Reasons include population growth and increased prosperity in Africa and Asia, the use of more/smaller packaging and social developments such as urbanisation and family composition. This leads to major challenges – such as plastic waste, the use of fossil raw materials and CO2 emissions – that require a system transition.
TNO is eager to contribute to solutions. For the transition to circular plastics, we’re taking a close look at the entire chain: from the influence of scenarios on CO2 emissions and the use of materials to health and economic feasibility. To this end, we’re combining our expertise in Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) and Life Cycle Costing (LCC) with technological knowledge of recycling techniques. TNO makes the right (system) choices on the basis of impact assessments, with economic, ecological and social value retention within the chain serving as the guiding force.
Because successful recycling begins with a good design, we develop short, medium and long-term plans for plastic recycling. We do this through a combination of laboratory research, pilot tests and recommendations. We’re also developing technologies to improve sorting and mechanical recycling. At the Brightlands Materials Center, we’re developing new packaging which is more recyclable. In the public-private partnership Brightsite, meanwhile, we’re creating industrial demos in the field of chemical recycling, for example.
In addition, TNO is developing technologies to chemically recycle plastics through depolymerisation and dissolution so that polymers or monomers can be separated from additives such as flame retardants. Finally, we’re focusing on pyrolysis, also known as thermochemical recycling. Through this, waste plastics are transformed into new building blocks to produce new plastics. We develop sensors to monitor and optimise these processes.