Europe is one of the largest producers and consumers of pulp, paper and cardboard, while the Lucca paper district is its largest industrial cluster with an overall production of 1.2 million tonnes of tissue paper and 950 000 tonnes of paper for packaging (75% and 40% of the total Italian production respectively). A large percentage of waste paper is recycled and the transformation chain is highly optimised. However, recovered paper contains certain materials that cannot be re-used and are thus discarded. Such waste makes up around 7% by weight of the recovered paper and constitutes pulp waste, which is mostly composed of mixed plastics. All pulp waste currently produced (100 000 t/year in the Lucca district alone) is disposed in landfills or burnt in incinerators with significant and unsustainable environmental and economic impacts.
The overall objective of LIFE ECO-PULPLAST was to reduce to zero the amount of paper mill pulp waste sent to landfills and incinerators. In order to reach this goal, the project planned to demonstrate the technical and economic feasibility of an innovative technology to recycle pulp waste into new plastic compounds and products, creating industrial synergies between the paper and the plastic sectors.
The identified technology has already been shown to be suitable for recycling mixed plastics from other industrial wastes. Moreover, laboratory-scale tests conducted on pulp waste have produced promising results.
Specifically, the project aimed to:
In addition, by replacing common wooden euro-pallets, which require large amounts of natural raw materials, with re-usable plastic pallets from recovered waste materials, the project would address the EU?s strategy for a resource-efficient Europe.
The LIFE ECO-PULPLAST project demonstrated the technical and economic feasibility of an innovative technology to recycle pulp waste into new plastic compounds (eco-pallets). In fact, the ECO-PULPLAST process was able to recover pulp waste into eco-pallets comprising up to 60-80% of plastic mixes, significantly above the target of 50%. The project also showed that the process reduces the environmental impact, thanks to the lack of need to transport pulp waste to incinerators and landfills.
The pre-treatment technologies tested by the project demonstrated that the amount of residual cellulose, wood and other impurities in the plastic mixes is less than 10% in weight and therefore, thanks to the better material quality, the amount of process waste was very low (around 5%).
The project team estimates that the combined recovery and recycling of cellulose and plastics will help reduce the amount of pulp waste produced in the Lucca Paper District from 120 000 tonnes a year to 50 000 by 2023. The subsequent NO2 emissions are estimated to decrease from 38 kg/day to 15 kg/day. Such environmental benefits are achievable, given that the process can be scaled up to an industrial scale.
The project also showed that eco-pallets offer an environmental and economically advantageous alternative to conventional wooden pallets for light-load handling in controlled logistics circuits, such as the tissue products of local paper converting companies. According to the business plan carried out by the project team, the ECO-PULPLAST process has great market uptake potential and good financial sustainability. The recycling and re-use of waste significantly cuts costs relating to transport to landfills and incineration ? paper companies pay on average ?70-80 per tonne, with ?25-30 per tonne for transportation. Reducing such costs can boost the competitiveness of European paper mills. The project calculated that installing three production lines offers a total moulding capacity of 1.2 million pallet/year, corresponding to 30,000 tonnes of mixed plastics coming from about 70 000 t/y of waste. Three years into the new production, the annual net profit would be ?130 000/year based on a sale price ?4.60 per pallet (?15 per wooden pallet).
The ECO-PULPLAST process is very relevant to the policy framework as the recovery of material from pulp waste stream helps meet the targets set by Waste Framework Directive (2008/98/EC) and the Landfill Directive (1999/31/EC). The production of eco-pallets also lowers the use of natural resources. Moreover, the project team engaged with the Italian ministry of the environment on the establishment of end-of-waste criteria for plastic originating from pulp waste. A working group was set up the Italian Ministry of Environment to define the ?minimum environmental criteria? for the end-of-waste classification of materials composing pulp waste, but criteria for mixed plastics, cellulose and other material flows separated from pulp waste have yet to be defined. However, the involvement of LUCENSE and SELENE in the working group should facilitate approval of these criteria.
Further information on the project can be found in the project's layman report (see "Read more" section).