enzymatic plastic recycling

In 2019, the production, recycling and combustion of plastics around the world released 850 million tons of greenhouse gases, twice the emissions of a country like France.

In France, each inhabitant produces an average of 35 kilograms of plastic waste per year. No less than 42.9% is incinerated and only 29% recycled, compared to 50% in Germany and the Netherlands. The rest are buried.

Figures pointing to France’s slowdown in recycling plastic packaging and weighing on its budget today. France had to pay a heavy fine to the European Union last year, of 1.2 billion euros under the “plastic tax”.

This contribution is one of these “new European own measures” that Brussels has introduced to finance its massive recovery plan.

The calculation method is simple: every kilogram of plastic packaging waste that a Member State has not recycled (jar of yogurt, bottle of water, tub of margarine, etc.) costs 80 euro cents. This is at least the case for the 10 richest countries in the Union.

The others, whose gross national income per inhabitant is lower than the European average, benefit from a fixed annual reduction on this amount, ranging from 117 million euros for Poland, 142 million euros for Spain and 184 million euros for Italy.

Will this new tax speed up plastic waste recycling?

While the 2020 Anti-Waste and Circular Economy Act plans to move to 100% plastic recycling by 2025. And the Climate and Resilience Act will ban non-recyclable plastics from January 1, 2025. The European SUP Directive (single use plasticsingle-use plastic) also requires certain products, such as water bottles (polyethylene terephthalate, PET), to contain 25% recycled plastic.

Approaching the very ambitious target in view of the current situation of 100% recycled plastic in France by 2025, set by the government; it is essential to design products ecologically, to collect more, to innovate and to support the demand for recycled plastics.

The use of industrial plastic recycling technologies and the use of recycled raw materials is essential to move from a linear economy to a circular economy. This transformation makes it possible to limit the consumption of new raw materials, in particular fossil fuels, and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions during the plastic’s life cycle.

Enzymatic recycling is an innovative technology resulting from a long French public and private research program

One of the various recycling techniques is mechanical recycling. Technique that is so far the most used in the world and almost the only one so far in France, but which does not allow to obtain plastics of the same quality and has many limits, such as that of not being able to treat multilayer plastics (brick of milk, pot of yogurt). This is where chemical recycling comes in. It consists in separating all the compounds of the synthetic fiber by a chemical reaction. A process called depolymerization. It can be obtained in different ways, dissolving by solvents, hydrolysis, pyrolysis, they all lead to the same result, which is to obtain monomers that can be used as raw materials to manufacture new polymers and thus new plastics.

21 projects announced in France

Through the “France 2030” investment plan, the government has committed EUR 300 million to recycling, in particular with a view to supporting these emerging technologies.

The largest of the announced projects is that of the American group Eastman, which will inject 850 million euros into a recycling plant by 2025.

The Canadian Loop Industry, in collaboration with the French group Suez, will launch a chemical recycling plant at a cost of EUR 250 million.

These two projects are just part of a larger movement. In Port-Jérôme, ExxonMobil, together with British Plastic Energy, will invest in a facility capable of recycling 33,000 tons of plastic, while TotalEnergies, also with Plastic Energy, is doing the same at Grandpuits, in Seine-et-Marne, where it will open its oil refinery. converted.

Of course, these processes do not only have advantages. An American NGO, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), has studied eight factories already in operation across the Atlantic, accusing them in a report published last month of being not only energy-intensive, but especially polluting. release substances into the environment. Questions that could somewhat dampen the enthusiasm of industrialists and politicians for these new technologies.

A problem that the UN has decided to take into account. Negotiations started last March for a global treaty against plastic pollution, which also includes recycling.

The United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA), the highest international body in this field, has in fact passed a motion calling for a “intergovernmental negotiating committee” responsible for drafting a textlegally binding” by 2024. The text will have to take into account the entire plastic life cycle, from production to reuse.

A world first made in France

Of all the plastics recycling plant projects, Frans is one of the most promising and innovative. Founded in 2011 by a chemical engineer, Jean-Claude Lumaret, Carbios and the investment fund Truffle Capital are committed to enzymatic recycling.

Unlike chemical recycling, this biological process is natural, explains Emmanuel Ladent, CEO of Carbios.

Unlike our competitors, we do not use solvents but enzymes that have the advantage of attacking all types of plastics. We are therefore much less selective in waste and work at low temperatures. 70 degrees only when other processes need to be heated to 200 degrees, so much less energy consumption.

The process, which was developed in the lab, was the subject of a large joint research program with the CNRS and the Toulouse Biotechnology Institute, funded half by public money and half by shareholders.

Emmanuel Ladent, Managing Director of Carbios announces the world's first organic pet recycling plant in Meurthe-et-Moselle before 2025
Emmanuel Ladent, Managing Director of Carbios announces the world’s first organic pet recycling plant in Meurthe-et-Moselle before 2025

The IPO in 2013 raised 14 million euros to develop a pilot. A very fragmented shareholding where we find large French and foreign groups such as L’Oréal, L’Occitane, Michelin, NestléWaters, PepsiCo and about 8,000 small shareholders.

It is also in the former workshops of the Michelin factory, in Clermont-Ferrand, that Carbios installed its industrial demonstrator in 2020. Nearly a hundred engineers, researchers and technicians are developing the machine.

Large tanks and a reactor with a hydrolysis capacity of 20,000 liters are already in operation. And the tests are convincing: the patented depolymerization process destroys more than 90% of the plastic in a short time: between 10 and 24 hours, its deputy general manager Martin Stephan assures.

We showed that we can recycle a clear bottle from a colored bottle or recycle a bottle to make a t-shirt or a t-shirt to make a bottle and that we are the only ones who can can.


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Report in Clermont-Ferrand on this plastics recycling process. By Annabelle Grelier

Carbios now succeeds in making plastic bottles from textile waste. These 100% recycled PET bottles have also successfully passed food contact suitability testing, paving the way for the use of new sources of plastic and textile waste, which has so far been poorly or not recovered.

Martin Stephan, deputy CEO of Carbios for the industrial demonstrator installed in the former Michelin workshops in Clermont-Ferrand
Martin Stephan, deputy CEO of Carbios for the industrial demonstrator installed in the former Michelin workshops in Clermont-Ferrand

The biological technology developed by Carbios makes it possible to find the initial monomers to recreate polymers for a fully circular recycling. Not quite infinite recycling, the yield obtained nevertheless reaches 95%, suggesting more than 40 life cycles for each product.

The Clermontoise team, which has integrated an additional purification phase, will complete the demonstrator in June, which can then enter the industrialization and marketing phase.

With an investment of 150 million euros, Carbios wants to build its first reactor of 1,000 cubic meters in France for a recycling capacity of 50,000 tons of waste per year. It is in Longlaville, in Meurthe-et-Moselle, that the first reference unit will be created, announced in February, the general manager Emmanuel Ladent.

We are going to build our reference unit in Longlaville, in Meurthe-et-Moselle, on the Indorama site, the world’s largest producer of PET resin, which will use recycled material.

The project will create 150 jobs when the plant starts up in 2025.

As a pioneer with its groundbreaking technology, Carbios aims to eventually capture a large share of the global market for recycled plastics. Knowing that 90 million tons of plastic are still produced every year, economic ambitions could spark the planet’s interest.

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