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A New European Project Uses Microwaves to Make Recycling PET Easier

A new European project could make recycling PET much easier as more apparel brands increase their use of the more eco-friendly material in their products.

On Monday, a group of European stakeholders, including recycling initiative gr3n and Italy-based chemical process company Processi Innovativi, launched DEMETO, a new European chemical recycling project, in Brussels.

DEMETO aims to enable the chemical depolymerization, also known as the polymer recycling, of PET—most often used in synthetic fibers—at an industrial scale using a unique microwave-based process intensification for colored bottle waste. Using microwave technology, DEMETO can break down colored bottle waste into its original building blocks, including ethylene glycol (EG) and purified terephthalic acid (PTA), and re-introduce the new virgin-grade material at the production stage. This would allow companies to chemically recycle PET bottles, textiles and food containers in a more sustainable way.

The project’s strategy stems from a partnership between gr3n and Processi Innovativi. For the project, gr3n will supply Processi Innovativi with the resources to build multiple depolymerization plants in Europe. As an engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) contractor, Processi Innovativi will manage the design and construction of the plants that will enable companies to recycle plastic bottles and other related materials at the industrial level. With additional funding from the EU’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program, a multi-nation environmental initiative, DEMETO can foster global sustainability in upcoming years.

“DEMETO’s technology, once successfully implemented, would allow to close the recycling loop for PET, with a potential impact on environment and society at large that would be enormous, introducing the concept of full circular economy in the plastic domain,” added Franco Cavadini, CTO of Synesis, another company supporting DEMETO’s efforts.

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[Read more about material recycling in the apparel industry: A Second Life: The Companies Helping Brands Engage in Textile Recycling]

DEMETO’s launch comes on the heels of other apparel circularity initiatives. Over the past few years, post-consumer textile recycling has gained momentum in the apparel industry. Considering the apparel industry remains the world’s second largest pollutant, leaders, including fiber innovation company Lenzing and upcycling textile system Recover, are enabling apparel brands to use regenerative fibers and yarns, instead of discarding textiles in landfills. What’s more, malls are also offering clothing takeback programs so consumers can also help minimize apparel’s carbon footprint.