Businesses based at the Wilton Centre near Redcar are pioneering global efforts to recycle plastic.
Some of the pioneering technologies which have been developed are even addressing the problem of the end-of-life plastics which until now have been considered to be unrecyclable and end up in landfill and incineration sites or the world’s oceans.
“The Covid pandemic has understandably dominated our lives and the news over the past few months,” said the Wilton Centre’s accommodation manager Claire Morton.
“But before that, tackling the threat caused to the environment by plastic pollution had become a top priority for many governments.”
It is estimated that each year around eight million tonnes of plastic waste ends up in the sea. In the UK, the government has set a recycling target of 70 per cent for all the plastics placed on the market. Currently, less than 50 per cent is being recycled.
“It’s a bold statement to say that what’s happening at the Wilton Centre could change the world, but that’s exactly what’s taking place,” said Claire.
The three companies involved are ReNew ELP, Poseidon Plastics and Mitsubishi Chemical UK. In October, ReNew ELP and Poseidon Plastics were awarded multi-million-pound grants by Innovate UK – the UK’s innovation agency – to support their work.
ReNew ELP, which moved to the Wilton Centre in 2018, received £4.42m to build the world’s first commercial-scale plastic recycling plant.
Its managing director Richard Daley said: “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.”
The company will use a new technology called Cat-HTR™ (Catalytic Hydrothermal Reactor) to convert items such as films, pots, tubs and trays back into the chemicals and oils from which they were made. They can then be used by the petrochemical industry in the production of new plastic and other materials.
Work to build the plant – on the site of the former Invista Textiles site in Wilton – will begin early next year. When operational, it will handle around 80,000 tonnes of waste plastic a year and initially employ 30 people.
Poseidon Plastics received £2.6m and will use the money towards building its first commercial facility. The plant will also be in Teesside and when it is completed in 2022 it will process the equivalent of one billion plastic bottles a year.
“The new Teesside plant will evidence the scalability of our advanced recycling process and help us towards our core goal of making an immediate, significant and sustainable impact on the global issue of plastic waste,” said Martin Atkins, Poseidon Plastics’ chief executive.
The third company – Mitsubishi Chemical UK Ltd – is using its laboratories and office space at the Wilton Centre to develop a circular economy which it is calling molecular recycling.
It will take end-of-life products made out of acrylic – one of the most commonlyused plastics – and reverse the production process to recreate the key raw material, Methyl Methacrylate (MMA): the building block of all acrylic products.
Acrylic is used in a multitude of products, such as lighting, car number plates and taillights, signage and medical equipment. The majority of the “sneeze screens”, which have been installed in buildings all over the world as a result of Covid-19, are also made of acrylic.
The company is already planning to build a recycling plant in mainland Europe and David Smith – the circular economy programme lead – described the project as “seriously game-changing”.
He said: “For the business, it’s one of the biggest projects in years, because if we get this right we don’t just add value to the company, we potentially add value to the world because we’re cutting down on CO2 emissions and reducing landfill, for example. The benefits are incredible.”