NEO GROUP patents an innovative plastic packaging recycling technology in the EU
The PET resin producer UAB NEO GROUP, currently operating in Klaipėda FEZ in Lithuania, has initiated European Union patenting procedures for a secondary PET packaging recycling technology it has created internally. The solution developed by the company’s scientists and technologists will allow the use of up to 30% of materials from post-consumer recycled packaging in the production process, while ensuring existing quality parameters, hence contributing to faster development of a circular economy.
The polyethylene terephthalate (PET) resins produced by NEO GROUP are the world’s most popular raw material for food, beverage and other packaging, whose success and wide applicability is based on transparency, safety, lightness, flexibility, attractive price, energy efficiency, and good barrier properties of PET. Although PET packaging is relatively successfully collected and recycled worldwide, the use of recycled packaging for food contact materials (FCM) has so far been quite limited.
According to Ruslanas Radajevas, the General manager of NEO GROUP, the amount of material available for mechanical recycling has increased since the deposit system was implemented in Lithuania, but this has not automatically increased the possibilities to recycle the plastic packaging which was not suitable for recycling before.
“In other words, the current mechanical recycling methods are effective, but they are not universal, and do not fully comply with the aims of EU directives or the principles of creating a circular economy. Due to these reasons, over the past few years, a team of NEO GROUP specialists has been independently developing scientific and experimental research looking for alternative PET packaging recycling technologies. We are delighted with the results achieved and have now submitted our first application for patenting our chemical recycling process in the European Union. We believe that the enhanced recycling methods and processes we have discovered will complement mechanical recycling in the future, allowing us to include an even higher amount of rPET in its secondary use,” R. Radajevas says.
While looking for a chemical recycling solutions, the NEO GROUP research and development team worked in several directions: actively participated in the European Commission’s DEMETO project in HORIZON 2020 program, as well as independently researched the recycling of secondary packaging using different methods. The main focus of the NEO GROUP team over the last two years has been on the soft glycolysis method, which the company is currently seeking to patent.
“The uniqueness of our solution is the final cleaning and preparation of post-consumer PET packaging for safe introduction into the standard PET resin production process by soft glycolysis method. This way, we get PET granules with up to 30% of recycled secondary PET,” R. Radajevas says.
The company plans to produce the first products based on this new technological model already this year. The company considers the new invention of the NEO GROUP team of researchers and technologists as a huge direct contribution towards a circular plastic economy. The company estimates that the recycled secondary raw materials will account up to 30% of the raw materials used in one production line and so, up to 30% less fossil raw materials will be used to produce the main product.
“It is crucial to emphasize that the quality of resins produced during this process will be identical to that produced on the other two lines. This means that the company’s customers will not have to adjust their equipment or perform any other changes in the manufacturing of their products. Furthermore, such granules can be recycled an unlimited number of times. We will monitor our processes and decide how we will increase the amount of post-consumer recycled PET. Seeing the market shift toward circular processes, we plan to continue modernising and improving our processes in order to achieve the principles of sustainable production. This is the company’s first patent, but it is resolving a vitally important issue – the real implementation of the circular economy,” R. Radajevas states.
NEO GROUP is a part of the international group RETAL Industries Ltd., which operates across 10 countries and manages 17 factories. In Lithuania, RETAL Industries Ltd. also manages the PET preforms producer UAB RETAL Lithuania and the food films and cap producer UAB RETAL Baltic Films. Anatoly Martynov, a Cyprus citizen, is the president and main shareholder of the RETAL Group.
UAB NEO GROUP is one of the largest producers of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) resin in Europe, located near the Klaipėda Seaport. It started its activities in Lithuania in 2004 and still is the largest greenfield investment in Lithuania. Currently, the factory produces over 450 thousand tonnes of PET granules annually, corresponding to 14% of the total European production of PET resins for food and beverage packaging.