Maximpact Blog

Achieving Circularity

Armacell foam component

Armacell foam component of the KAFD World Trade Center in the King Abdullah Financial District, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, is lifted into place. The façade cladding is built out of advanced composite materials and covers a surface area of more than 40.000 m². (Photos courtesy Armacell)

By Sunny Lewis

LONDON, UK, May 12, 2017 ( News) – Companies looking for innovative ways to give the circular economy a spin can check out insulation foams producer Armacell, which is giving PET plastic bottles a second life in wind turbine rotor blades.

Polyethylene terephthalate, or PET, is the most common thermoplastic polymer resin of the polyester family. It is made into containers for liquids and foods and used in combination with glass fiber for engineering resins.

Headquartered in Luxembourg, Armacell has started up an extrusion line at its Brampton facility in Ontario, Canada to convert recycled PET resin into PET foam for use in the production of wind turbine rotor blades.

Around 75 percent of Armacell’s PET foam makes up the core for the blades, with some 50,000 PET bottles converted to form the core of a single wind turbine.

The first of its kind in Canada, the new extrusion line joins similar Armacell PET foam extrusion lines in Belgium and the United States. Armacell plans to install a PET foam line in China and launch production by the end of 2018.

The company claims its foaming process reduces carbon dioxide emissions when compared with standard PET foaming using virgin resin. The process generates “52 percent less CO2 than PVC foam and 62 percent less than polyurethane foam,” the company states.

The company estimates that its ArmaForm PET is already used in more than 30,000 wind turbine blades globally. Among their many uses, Armacell foams made from PET bottles can also be used for insulation in buildings and ships.

The circular economy is becoming a driving force, particularly in the plastics sector, now that the business community is getting involved.

The New Plastics Economy Initiative was launched in London in May 2016. In January 2017, the Initiative launched the report “The New Plastics Economy – Catalysing Action” at the World Economic Annual Meeting in Davos.

The report sets forth an action plan to increase recycling or reuse of all plastics packaging globally to 70 percent, up from today’s recycling rate of 14 percent.

Led by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation , headquartered on the Isle of Wight in the UK, the initiative is bringing together companies, governments, NGOs, scientists, students and citizens to build a global plastics system that works.

The foundation defines a circular economy as one that is “restorative and regenerative by design, and aims to keep products, components, and materials at their highest utility and value at all times.”

“A circular economy is a continuous positive development cycle that preserves and enhances natural capital, optimizes resource yields, and minimizes system risks by managing finite stocks and renewable flows,” the foundation says.

Focusing on designing better plastics packaging and creating circular material streams, Excelrise, KKPKP, Nestlé, Re-Poly, and Schwarz Zentrale Dienste, are joining the active group of stakeholders to increase cross value chain collaboration.

The Initiative’s Core Partners include: Amcor, The Coca-Cola Company, Danone, MARS, Novamont, Unilever and Veolia.

Unilever in January committed to ensuring that all of its plastic packaging is fully reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025. Unilever called on the entire fast-moving consumer goods industry to accelerate progress towards the circular economy.

Paul Polman, Unilever CEO, said, “Our plastic packaging plays a critical role in making our products appealing, safe and enjoyable for our consumers. Yet it is clear that if we want to continue to reap the benefits of this versatile material, we need to do much more as an industry to help ensure it is managed responsibly and efficiently post consumer-use.”

Swiss group Nestlé and its French rival Danone are partnering to create a greener plastic bottle. The food and drinks companies are funding Origin Materials, a Californian biotech company to develop plastic made from waste such as sawdust or old cardboard instead of petroleum.

The Coca-Cola Company may have tried to identify itself with the circular economy, but Greenpeace says the company is not doing enough to protect the Earth from its plastics.

On April 10, Greenpeace activists blocked the entrance to Coca-Cola’s UK headquarters in London with a giant sculpture featuring a seagull regurgitating plastic, and demanded that the company do more to help prevent plastic pollution.

The campaign group said the sculpture, which depicts an idyllic family beach scene interrupted by birds choking on plastic, was intended to highlight what it claims are failings by the company.

In a report “Choke – The case against Coca-Cola“released April 10, Greenpeace claimed that Coca-Cola, the world’s largest soft drinks company, sells more than 100 billion plastic bottles every year. Single-use plastic bottles make up nearly 60 percent of the packaging produced by the company globally, the report says.

“Coca-Cola is always keen to emphasize the importance of recycling to its customers, but is failing to substantially increase the amount of recycled material it uses to make its own bottles globally,” Greenpeace said in its report.

The company refused to provide Greenpeace with a breakdown of how many tonnes of virgin plastic packaging versus recycled

plastic packaging it sells globally each year, but Greenpeace calculates that the company uses just seven percent recycled PET content on average across its global product line.

Coca-Cola says a drop in oil prices reduced the cost of virgin plastic, which made recycled PET uptake a challenge.

Greenpeace said in its report, “100% recycled bottles are feasible and have been rolled out for a number of soft drinks products over the past decade. In 2007, Suntory’s Ribena became the first major UK soft drink brand to use 100% recycled plastic. Then Naya Natural Spring Water started using 100% recycled plastic bottles in Canada in 2009, followed by PepsiCo’s 7Up with 100% recycled ‘EcoGreen’ bottles in 2011. Hong Kong-based brand Watsons Water has offered customers ‘Go Green’ bottles since 2015 and Nestlé’s Natural Spring Water began using 100% rPET bottles in the US in 2015.”

The European Commission has adopted an ambitious Circular Economy Package, which includes revised legislative proposals on waste to stimulate Europe’s transition towards a circular economy. The Commission says a circular economy will boost global competitiveness, foster sustainable economic growth and generate new jobs.

The Circular Economy Package consists of a program of action, with measures covering the whole cycle: from production and consumption to waste management and the market for secondary raw materials, complete with a timeline through 2030.

The proposed actions will contribute to “closing the loop” of product lifecycles through greater recycling and re-use, and bring benefits for both the environment and the economy, the Commission says.

The revised legislative proposals on waste set clear targets for reduction of waste and establish an ambitious and credible long-term path for waste management and recycling.

Key elements of the revised waste proposal include:

  • A common EU target for recycling 65 percent of municipal waste by 2030;
  • A common EU target for recycling 75 percent of packaging waste by 2030;
  • A binding landfill target to reduce landfill to maximum of 10 percent of municipal waste by 2030;
  • A ban on landfilling of separately collected waste;
  • Promotion of economic instruments to discourage landfilling;
  • Simplified and improved definitions and harmonized calculation methods for recycling rates throughout the EU;
  • Concrete measures to promote re-use and stimulate industrial symbiosis – turning one industry’s by-product into another industry’s raw material;

Finally, a key element of the proposal is economic incentives for producers to put greener products on the market and support recovery and recycling schemes for packaging, batteries, electric and electronic equipment and vehicles.

Featured Image: Cola Consumption – Plastic Coca-Cola bottles (Photo by tk-link) Creative Commons license via Flickr


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