Life Cycle Assessment of CARBIOS enzymatic biorecycling technology: powering PET plastic and textile circularity

Main Presenter:    Auriane Arnould 

Co-Authors:   Romain RADZIMINSKI     Kiyan VADOUDI      Delphine DENOIZE                                    

Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) is one of the most used polyester plastics in a broad range of applications. However, like other plastics, it is prone to leakage into the environment and post-consumer PET waste is not always well recycled due to underdeveloped end-of-life circular value chain and/or complex/non-existent recycling process. In a circular perspective, recycling is one solution available to reduce PET impacts while still allowing to benefit from its properties.
Currently, mechanical recycling of PET packaging waste is possible for certain types of packaging (e.g., clear and coloured bottles) but can be limited for several reasons: polymer chain scissions during the melt-processing decreases the polymer’s molecular weight (Mw) and its viscosity; packaging with different colours and multiple layers complexify the recycling process and can result in lower quality of the output; the evolution of collection schemes can decrease the feedstock quality because of polymers mixing in waste streams. The incorporation threshold in finished goods is thus limited to certain applications, because of this lower quality, resulting in open-loop mechanical recycling rather than a closed-loop process.
CARBIOS is developing an innovative enzymatic recycling technology of PET which can be applied to heterogenous waste streams of materials. The outputs of this process, PET monomers (terephthalic acid and mono-ethylene glycol), have the same quality as petroleum-based monomers and results in the repolymerization of virgin-like polymer usable for various applications, including packaging. CARBIOS has recently developed similar biorecycling for textiles feedstocks.
CARBIOS has integrated life cycle assessment (LCA) in its development process to monitor its environmental performance and optimize the biorecycling process from an environmental perspective. Various LCAs were done at different stages of the technology to understand the main hotspots in an eco-design approach and compare them with conventional scenarios.
The objective of the study is to assess the environmental impacts of CARBIOS enzymatic recycling process for PET packaging in the context of the industrialization of its technology (TRL 7-8). To achieve this objective, CARBIOS has partnered with Deloitte in the European funded project ‘LIFE cycle of PET’ (LIFE20 ENV/FR/000596). The study uses LCA and assesses the two functions of the recycling process through a multifunctional approach: packaging waste treatment and PET production. The environmental benefits compared to virgin PET production and its limitations are presented. As an opening conclusion, the future challenges in capturing the potential benefits of circularity will also be addressed.

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