Development in the region, comprising eastern parts of Western Europe (Austria, Germany and Italy) and ex-socialist countries in the strip from Poland in the north to Croatia in the south, followed different patterns. One resulted in a University dominated system and the other included a strong position of academy institutes. More recently, these differences have decreased through the common emergence of an applied orientation involving SMEs, technology incubators, knowledge transfer centres etc. designed to foster greater cooperation between science and industry.
Although sustainable polymers, including biopolymers and bioplastics, have emerged during the last decade or so as one of the fastest growing segments of the plastics industry, the same trend did not apply to Central Europe, particularly in its eastern part that has been lagging behind significantly. Today there are no important bioplastic producers in this area. The reasons behind this state of affairs are linked, in a “chicken and egg” way, to the low consumption of these materials both in the plastics converter industry and among end-users, be it commercial or individual. The situation indicates a marked disconnect with the otherwise strong polymer research sector that received significant investment over the recent period.
In accordance with its full title (that is “Innovative Value Chain Development for Sustainable Plastics in Central Europe”), the PLASTiCE project was designed to bridge the existing disconnect. It was setup to include the entire plastics value chain, spanning from producer, through to converter, retailer, up to waste management, connected to a strong group of knowledge institutions (institutes, universities and a regional consortium for innovation and technology transfer). To underline the regional approach, partners came from four EC countries (Italy, Slovenia, Slovakia and Poland). The project was implemented through the Central Europe Programme (http://www.central2013.eu/) co-funded by the European Regional Development Fund.
Despite the crucial involvement of research institutions the project was not an R&D project but was rather focused on establishing the framework conditions for a wider acceptance of new sustainable plastics throughout the value chain. During the initial phase of the project, we carried out a situation analysis mapping both needs and existing capacities. Very quickly it became apparent that in virtually all segments of the value chain, with perhaps the exception of the polymer production segment, the lack of available information and knowledge about the nature and opportunities offered by bioplastics was the key obstacle to wider uptake. To address this issue, the dissemination of unbiased, scientifically supported information directed to a wide group of targets comprising SMEs, industry, policymakers, educators, end-users, consumers, the general public and, finally, waste management was of the outmost importance for the entire duration of the project, to the point of constituting one of its key actions.
Young and plastics: to reach out to the next generation, a debate competition on the topics of sustainable plastics and bioplastics was organized with four high schools in Slovenia.
To feed the dissemination goal, the project team established channels for information distribution involving the pooling of contacts with external partners while also relying heavily on electronic routes: web sites, social media and online video channels. A number of materials for distribution were also prepared. Among these, numerous publications of varied complexity, offering all from basic concepts to an analysis of R&D availability in the area, from technology reviews to standardization and certification information.
The principal publications are: “A Roadmap for Action – From Science to Innovation in the Value Chain” and the Transnational Advisory Scheme entitled “Bioplastics – Opportunity for the Future” that offers comprehensive information about the field. A descriptive brochure on bioplastics for use in High schools was also very well received.
In order to provide practical information, a series of case studies were carried out in collaboration with industrial partners. Case studies focused on application developments in different segments (food contact products, hygiene/sanitary products, agricultural products, packaging) to examine specific products with widely differing material requirements. These case studies were all described in detail and resulted in 4 prototypes. Two technology showcase case studies were carried out, concerning an integrated retail distribution/waste collection/composting system and a full-scale composting test involving compostable plastics. Another set of studies looked at testing markers for bioplastics identification based on UV master batches, UV print and IR print. Furthermore, an LCA case study on shopping bag options, involving a comparison of compostable bags to alternatives, stands as a methodological showcase. All case studies were described in detail and were made available. The project also established certification portals to enable bioplastic based products made in Slovenia and Slovakia to be certified (according to a Polish model). Hence, companies can carry out the certification process in their own language and receive internationally recognized certificates.
The strong promotional activity, powered by PLASTiCE as part of its dissemination effort, involved numerous presentations at various national and international events, the organization of seminars and workshops and 4 international conferences. This work was linked to online video content production. More than 100 videos have been produced which have attracted considerable attention through the project’s YouTube channel. The wide-ranging action included sponsoring of a film premiere that attracted approximately 1,000 visitors and the distribution of a movie on plastic waste management that involved many showings.
Finally, the project program called for the establishment, in all partner countries, of national information points (NIPS) on bioplastics so that they may act as central information sources. Judging by the interest for NIPS coming from third countries, it is apparent that the online section may easily be replicated elsewhere. By engaging partners from other EU member states, within and outside Central Europe, and from neighbouring countries (Balkans, Turkey and Egypt) and several more distant countries (China, Brazil, Indonesia and USA) an interesting network has been established. We believe that the network represents a great potential platform on which to build new initiatives in the field of bioplastics.
The PLASTiCE project shows that active promotion produces significant results that translate into raised awareness and practical actions. Key components of success are: the regional dimension of the project team, the involvement of stakeholders representing the entire value chain, and the mission to promote general concepts that benefit the entire sector.
PLASTiCE Project in summary
Innovative Value Chain Development for Sustainable Plastics in Central Europe
5,353,764.70 € (85% ERDF founds)
36 months (extended to 42 months, April 2011 – September 2014)
13 from 4 EC countries:
- Slovenia (National Institute of Chemistry, Slopak, Mercator, Plasta and Centre of Excellence PoliMaT)
- Slovakia (Polymer Institute of Slovak Academy of Sciences, Slovak University of Technology in Bratislava and HrKo)
- Italy (University of Bologna, Aster and Novamont)
- Poland (Polish Academy of Sciences – Centre of Polymer and Carbon Materials and Cobro – Packaging Research Institute)
National Information points: www.sustainableplastics.eu