THE CIRCULAR BIOECONOMY IN PRACTICE – ASSESSING THE END-OF-LIFE OPTIONS AND ITS ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT FOR BIO-BASED POLYETHYLENE FURANOATE (PEF)
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PEF is an innovative bio-plastic with a number of superior characteristics compared to PET, which could lead to advantages in food packaging applications such as light weighting combined with an enhanced shelf life. Moreover, the contaminating influence from PEF on PET recycling is limited, which allows co-recycling in until at least up to 2% that could accelerate the market introduction of PEF. A promising production process has been developed by Avantium and is technically ready for implementation. However, the environmental advantages compared to existing fossil-based plastics are being discussed heavily when it comes to using biomass as a feedstock. Limited scientific research has been dedicated to the environmental performance of PEF and especially to its End-of-Life (EoL). This study investigates the environmental performance in terms of GWP-impact of different EoL-options that contribute to a circular bio-economy of PEF in higher detail compared to existing studies. The EoL-options for small bottles made from PET and PEF have been compared, as this is one of the specific applications where the technical characteristics of PEF enable improved performance. In the short-term (2020), mechanical recycling is the relevant EoL but for the long-term (2030-2035) both mechanical recycling and chemical recycling have been considered as prioritized EoL-options. While using the LCA methodology, the GWP-impact of the integrated EoL-options in representative Dutch waste treatments were assessed, starting at the collection of the bottles after consumer use. It was found that among the EoL-options mechanical recycling achieves the largest environmental benefits, although the results for chemical recycling might be improved if industrial scale data were available rather than only pilot plant scale data. When waste treatments of PET and PEF were mutually compared, no large differences were identified in the mechanical and chemical recycling processes themselves. Mechanical recycling of PEF is largely compatible with PET recycling and potential differences in chemical recycling could not be identified due to lack of available data and process details. In a second assessment, a cradle-to-grave LCA was done on a single small (250 ml) beverage bottle with a shelf life of 12 weeks, which takes into account the different bottle weights of PET and PEF needed to achieve this functionality. It was found that a PEF bottle delivers a GWP reduction per functional unit of 54-64% over the whole life cycle for short-term mechanical recycling, long-term mechanical recycling and long-term chemical recycling. The choice of the EoL appeared to be significant for the GWP-impact of a PEF bottle life cycle. Compared to incineration (with energy recovery), PEF mechanical recycling delivers in the short-term an advantage of 23% and in the long-term an advantage of 53%. Although no representative data is used for chemical recycling of PEF, the obtained benefit is still 24%.