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Sir David Attenborough backs process that recycles all types of plastic

Professional Engineering

Sir David Attenborough has backed new plastic recycling technology as a solution to waste plastic entering the ocean (Credit for YouTube screenshot: Mura Technology)
Sir David Attenborough has backed new plastic recycling technology as a solution to waste plastic entering the ocean (Credit for YouTube screenshot: Mura Technology)

Construction has begun on a new plastic recycling facility aimed at ‘solving the global plastic crisis’.

The Teesside facility, which will recycle all forms of plastic, is the first ever commercial-scale plant to use Mura Technology’s HydroPRS process. Standing for Hydrothermal Plastic Recycling Solution, the technique is designed to tackle plastic that cannot currently be recycled, turning it back into useful raw ingredients.

Around the world, 350m tonnes of plastic is produced annually, half of which becomes waste in less than a year. Only 9% of plastic has ever been recycled, however. The vast majority (79%) ends up in landfill or the environment, with 8m tonnes entering the oceans every year – polluting environments and injuring or killing millions of marine animals.

“What’s so tragic about plastic pollution is that it is so totally unnecessary,” said renowned broadcaster and naturalist Sir David Attenborough, speaking in a YouTube video by Mura. “The plastic in our oceans should never have found its way there in the first place.

“The only solution to our terrible plastic problem is preventing plastic from entering the ocean in the first place. The good news is that this can be accomplished with improved waste management systems and new improved technology.”

The HydroPRS process uses supercritical steam to convert plastics back into the oils and chemicals they were made from, ready to be used for new ‘virgin-grade’ plastic products. The steam acts like ‘molecular scissors’, cutting longer-chain hydrocarbon bonds in as little as 25 minutes.

The technique can reportedly recycle all forms of plastic, including ‘unrecyclable’ products such as multi-layer flexible plastics used in packaging, with no limit to the number of times the same material can be recycled. The virgin plastic could even be used for food packaging, unlike the products of conventional recycling.

“It has the potential to eliminate single-use plastic and make the raw ingredients for a circular plastics economy, creating value, not waste,” a Mura announcement said.

Global plastic production also creates an estimated 390m tonnes of CO2 every year, equivalent to more than 172m cars. It accounts for 6% of global oil consumption, and is set to increase to 20% by 2050. 

“Advanced recycling processes reduce the need for fossil-fuel extraction for virgin plastics,” the Mura announcement said. “In addition, they can save approximately 1.5 tonnes of CO2 per tonne of plastic recycled, compared to incineration. On completion, the Teesside plant has the potential to eliminate up to 120,000 tonnes of CO2 per year, compared to incineration of the same plastic waste.”

The Teesside plant is due to be operational next year. It will process up to 80,000 tonnes of plastic waste per year, and Mura hopes it could form the blueprint for rapid global roll-out. Other sites are planned in Germany, the US and Asia.

Dr Steve Mahon, CEO of Mura Technology, said: “We are at the tipping point of an environmental catastrophe – it’s time to seize the initiative and put an end to plastic pollution across the world. HydroPRS represents a win-win for the environment, economy and society, helping keep our environment free from plastic, and oil where it belongs – in the ground.”

The Teesside project was awarded £4.42m by the government, via the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund’s Smart Sustainable Plastic Packaging programme.

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Content published by Professional Engineering does not necessarily represent the views of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.


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