£4.2m funding for world first commercial plastic recycling centre set for Tees

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Advanced recycling company ReNew ELP – based at the Wilton Centre near Redcar – has been awarded a £4.42m grant from Innovate UK, the UK’s innovation agency, to build the world’s first commercial-scale plastic recycling plant.

Construction work will start in early 2021 and when the plant is operational it will handle around 80,000 tonnes of waste plastic a year.

A new technology called Cat-HTR (Catalytic Hydrothermal Reactor) will be used to recycle plastic items such as films, pots, tubs and trays, which up until now have been considered unrecyclable.

They are currently sent to UK and overseas landfill and incineration sites and it is estimated that each year around eight million tonnes of plastic waste end up in the world’s oceans.

Cat-HTR uses supercritical water, heat and pressure to convert waste plastic back into the valuable chemicals and oils from which it was made.

They can then be used in the petrochemical industry in the production of new plastic and other materials.

The plant will be built on the site of the former Invista Textiles site in Wilton. Eighty construction jobs will be created. A further 30 people will initially work at the plant, with more to follow as its operation is stepped up.

ReNew ELP moved to the Wilton Centre in April 2018. Ten staff are based there working on the development of the new plant.

The company’s managing director Richard Daley said: “This grant demonstrates we are in line with government policy and its drive towards achieving increased recycling targets in the UK.

“It will increase investor confidence, help innovative technologies such as ours break through and establish the Advanced Recycling Industry in the UK, helping ReNew ELP to emerge as a global leader in plastic recycling.”

Redcar MP Jacob Young said “This is fantastic news for our area, for our chemical sector, but crucially for the environment. ReNew ELP’s technology shows we can go further in recycling those difficult to recycle plastics and help to tackle waste and prevent landfill.

“The government’s £4.42m Innovate UK grant given to ReNew ELP shows we are willing to try every avenue to win the war on waste and I’m pleased to have such an innovative company on our doorstep in Redcar & Cleveland.”

The UK currently recycles just less than half of the plastics placed on the market against a Government aspiration of 70%.

Rebecca Pow MP, the Under-Secretary of State for Defra. said: “The Government is committed to both clamping down on the unacceptable plastic waste that harms our environment and ensuring more materials can be reused instead of being thrown away.

“By investing in these truly ground-breaking technologies we will help to drive these efforts even further, and I look forward to seeing them develop and deliver real results.”

The money for ReNew ELP’s plant comes through the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund’s Smart Sustainable Plastic Packaging programme and reflects the UK Government’s priority to drive economic growth through new technology.

Alongside diverting plastic away from polluting the environment, the Cat-HTR technology represents significant overall environmental benefit. Initial independent studies have already shown that advanced recycling can reduce CO2 emissions by 1.5 tonnes for every tonne of plastic waste processed when compared to incineration.

This means that the completed ReNew ELP site at Wilton will save approximately 120,000 tonnes of CO2 annually, when compared to incineration. Environmental benefits include:

• Reducing plastic pollution of the natural environment
• 1.5 tonnes CO2 emissions saving per tonne of plastic processed via advanced recycling when compared to incineration
• An increased scope of recyclable plastics, including those classed as ‘unrecyclable’
• As Cat-HTR is not a combustion process, it does not produce toxic by-products such as dioxins
• A reduction on fossil sourced feedstock for the manufacture of new plastics
• High yields – up to 85% of the mass of plastic is converted to hydrocarbon products
• Minimal waste is produced – impurities (colourants, additives, fillers etc.) in the plastic feedstock fall out into the heavier hydrocarbon feedstocks, which can be used in construction

As well as recycling the unrecyclable, a key benefit of the Cat-HTR technology is also its ability to process food-contaminated, mixed-polymer streams without need for segregation.

In addition, new materials made from ReNew ELP’s advanced recycled feedstocks are suitable for use in food-contact packaging material, a problem area for existing mechanical recycling systems whose products do not meet European Food Standard Agency requirements.

ReNew ELP said this development in technology is central to supporting the UK government’s agenda on plastic recycling rates, improving recyclability and reducing environmental plastic pollution.

It also represents a fantastic opportunity for the UK to lead the way globally in innovative plastic recycling, stemming from this first site in the North East.

The roll out of this technology will prevent the need for waste plastic export to developing countries and bring high-value jobs in UK industry. This first site in Teesside will:

• Recycle 80,000 tonnes of plastic waste annually, upon completion
• Be able to process plastics currently considered ‘unrecyclable’
• Be a shovel-ready UK solution to one of the biggest global issues faced today
• Place the UK at the forefront of plastic recycling and prevent the need for exporting plastic waste
• Bring high-value engineering jobs and economic growth to the UK