How Teesside can lead the plastic recycling solution

A champion of the region’s process sector says Teesside can lead the field as a key part of the environmental solution with two revolutionary plastics recycling plants set to be built at Wilton, near Redcar.

Philip Aldridge, CEO of the North East Process Industry Closer (NEPIC), which represents the region’s chemicals and plastics businesses, took part in the latest Tees Business Leaders online Q&A, sponsored by PD Ports.

He was joined by Chris Wilson, commercial contracts manager of ReNew ELP, one of two Wilton Centre-based firms who have recently announced grants towards plastics recycling plants.

Poseidon Plastics was awarded a £2.6m grant to build a PET plastics recycling facility that will redirect the equivalent of more than one billion bottles per year out of landfills and the environment.

And ReNew ELP has been awarded a £4.4m grant from Innovate UK to build new technology called a catalytic hydrothermal reactor, which will recycle plastic items such as films, pots, tubs and trays, items until now considered unrecyclable.

ReNew’s Wilton plant will create 80 construction jobs, with a further 30 people initially employed on the facility, with more to follow as its operation is stepped up.

“Most of the plastics and the chemicals that make plastics and plastic goods are made here on Teesside,” Philip told Tees Business executive editor Dave Allan during the online Q&A.

“So it’s right that Teesside should become a big part of the solution for the environmental problem we have today.

“NEPIC see a lot of desire from the manufacturers to become part of that solution.”

He added: “Plastics can be wonderful and they have extremely good hygiene properties, which is very important at the moment with Covid.

“It’s the way we have been recycling plastic or just throwing it away that’s been the issue. Plastics manufacturers are an integral part of this problem, as are recycling plants such as those that will be run by ReNew ELP and Poseidon.”

Construction of ReNew ELP’s commercial-scale recycling plant – with a capacity to recycle up to 80,000 tons of plastic waste a year – will begin after Christmas with Chris revealing it had the potential to start a recycling revolution.

He said: “I’ve been in the waste industry for 19 years and this is the first opportunity I’ve had to do something genuinely new and disruptive in terms of technology – it will be a game changer!

“Plastic will be recycled using a catalytic hydrothermal reactor, which is a process that was originally developed in Australia in the mid-2000s. The plant we are building at Wilton will be the world’s first commercial-scale version of that technology.

“With traditional mechanical recycling, the material is remelted over and over again until it loses its strength and its properties and it ends up being downcycled and used for things such as garden furniture and refuse sacks.

“But the materials we produce will go back into the chemical supply chain. We can crack the same plastic over and over again.”

ReNew’s facility will utilise post-use plastic feedstock including household-type plastic and material that would otherwise go to incineration or landfill. It will also recycle contaminated plastic which would usually go into waste bins.

While the battle for Covid still rages, Chris fears environmental legislation to support companies such as ReNew may be much lower on the government’s ‘to do’ list.

He added: “I understand that the government are trying to save the population at the moment, but we are looking at the longer game.

“With Covid, we will get some form of vaccine before too long. Companies like ours are trying to save the planet.”

*Tees Business Leaders is sponsored by PD Ports, owners of Teesport, one of the UK’s fastest-growing ports.