Introduction to PolyCE

European Commission Horizon 2020 project enabling recycling of plastics from electronic waste for a more sustainable future

The global economy needs an immediate shift towards a circular economy model for plastic waste. It requires a systematic transformation that involves all actors in the value chain and encompasses the entire lifecycle of plastic materials.

Although there are individual efforts to improve the collection and recycling of plastics in electronic waste (e-waste) the plastics value chain is still too fragmented, and recycled plastics are still perceived as unattractive to the end-user. For reference, the European Commission estimates e-waste to be one of the fastest growing waste streams in the EU, expected to grow to more than 12 million tonnes by 2020.

PolyCE (or Post-Consumer High-tech Recycled Polymers for a Circular Economy), a European Commission funded project consisting of a consortium of 20 expert organisations, has taken on the challenge of addressing this problem during the next four years.

Through significantly reducing the use of virgin plastics and enhancing the use of recycled plastics in new electronics applications, PolyCE will:

  • Demonstrate the feasibility of a circular model for the plastics supply and value chain.
  • Develop a grading system for recycled plastics, which will ultimately serve to provide guidelines for designing new electronic products.
  • Involve green public procurement initiatives and consumer awareness raising campaigns across the EU (with a focus on Germany, Poland, Italy and France).
  • Establish a feedback loop from research activities that provides policy input regarding technical feasibilities and conflicts from a technical perspective.

Work Packages


Work Package 1

Circular models of production and consumption for high resource efficiency

The main goal of WP1 is to identify, assess and test business models towards circular economy and their impacts along the whole value chain. The specific objectives are:

  • Demonstrate the feasibility of a circular model for the plastics supply and value chain.
  • Characterise current CE business models and determine the impacts, drivers and limitations in the electronics sector and determine metrics / measurement
  • Investigate the point of view of the end-users regarding barriers and drivers for the implementation of innovative circular business models
  • Assess current business models of production of plastics for the electronics sector
  • CDetermine how innovative design of processes, components, products, services and quality protocols can be tailored to increase product circularity
  • CDerive business models for dematerialisation and consumption (for testing in WP3) and assess opportunities for integration with existing systems.
  • CDetermine opportunities for industrial symbiosis between different electronic equipment value chains and sectors increasing circularity

Work Package 2

Strategic Convergence and collaboration of all actors across the Plastics value chain

The main goal of WP2 is to initiate and organize the necessary networking of the project. The specific objective are to:

  • Contact and involve the relevant actors in industries, SMEs, NGOs, academia & research, govern-mental and international organizations being active in EEE and automotive sector, plastics produc-tion, additives value chains
  • Assess the needs, financial and technical possibilities and limitations of each actor in the value chain to better understand the barriers and potentials for progress towards a circular economy for plastics
  • Create opportunities and mechanisms for coordination between stakeholders with the aim to enable better information exchange and greater knowledge transfer

Identify and involve committed stakeholders to support the project as basis for all other Work Pack-ages.


Work Package 3

Improve after use management of WEEE post-consumer plastics

The main goal of WP3 is to establish the most effective methods of reverse logistics and supply chain management for increasing the return rate of plastics and improving the recycling of post-consumer plas-tic. The specific objectives are

  • Get an overview of the current material flows
  • Develop technical solutions to improve the collection, sorting, recycling and reuse of PCR plastics.
  • Analyse two main after use scenarios for determining sustainability and circularity across the value chain: a state-of-the-art from end of life product to WEEE collection facility, to WEEE treatment and plastic recycling facility and an innovative scenario where the end of life products go back directly to the manufacturer reducing the variability and the length of the reverse supply chain. For both of them the material flows along the chain will be identified and quantified. A feasibility study will be under-taken for synergies between clustering and merging entire value chains for a range of differing prod-ucts to identify opportunities for plastic recycling.
  • Validate the viability of the methods identified and measure the potential benefit quantified together with the relevant industrial partners (producers, manufacturers and take back schemes) and with the support of the supply chain trials of WP7.

Work Package 4

Redesign recycling and recovery to produce environmentally sustainable and high-quality PCR plastics

The main goal of WP4 is to elaborate harmonized, coherent and comprehensive set of technical re-quirements addressing the entire WEEE plastics value chain. The specific objectives are:

  • Extend the efforts that have been made so far to elaborate standards covering only fragments of the value chain, e.g. plastic recyclers (EuCertPlast) or the emphasis is not on WEEE plastics (WEEELABEX, WEEELABEX, CENELEC EN50625 Collection, logistics & Treatment requirements for WEEE) to cover the entire value chain.

Develop a PCR plastics grade system according to quality standards and specifications for PCR plastics. Currently, as there are no standard quality criteria classifying PCR plastics, the required ma-terial performances are agreed on a case by case basis between the re-processor and end user. Therefore, uniform grade system for PCR plastics has to be developed, classifying the recyclates ac-cording to their material properties and final application, to improve the industrial cooperation among all actors of the value chain and increase the use of PCR in Europe


Work Package 5

Create eco-innovative and sustainable polymer compounds for the electronics industry

The main goal of WP5 is to develop sustainable materials and additives for the demonstrators in WP7, i.e. to develop plastic compounds, which take into account multiple reuse and recycling lifecycles. Spe-cific objectives of WP5 are:

  • Develop sustainable additives and flame retardants for polymer compounds suitable for applications in Electric & Electronic, considering a circular perspective. FR and additives will be free of hazardous substances and will keep their properties after several aging and reprocessing cycles.
  • Develop new compounds based on new and commercial available additives and recovered polymers coming from WEEE streams. Compounds will be designed according to the requirements of final ap-plication in new Electric & Electronic products (WP7).
  • Evaluate two compounding routes: a) Direct compounding from the polymer fraction coming directly from WEEE sorting process (MBA polymer). b) Compounding starting from previously recovered net polymer as raw material. Suitability of the two processes according to the final applications (WP7) will be addressed.
  • Systematize the design of plastic compounds for E&E appliances considering EoL perspective.
  • Compile a guide for selection of most appropriates additives and polymers for final applications.

Work Package 6

Strengthen the effective secondary market for post-consumer plastics by an online marketplace

The main goal of WP6 is to extend an existing online market platform on plastics providing information and specifications on pricing, material flows and material-supply reliability for and with the input of all actors across the value chain. By this, an infrastructure on information and resource trading will be es-tablished. The specific objectives are to:

  • Characterise and map current market situation of actors across the recycling value chain towards its process flows, material volumes and regional characteristics.
  • Determine drivers and barriers of (non-) successful businesses of the secondary market for post-consumer plastics.
  • Strengthen the market for PCR plastics by setting up an online marketplace platform that strengthens drivers and reduces barriers. An already existing recycling website will be part of the consortium and will be used as a basis that meets the following aspects towards software and content requirements of the platform:
  • Provide and therefore close the gaps of information and technical specification as needed by actors across the value chain of CE business models.
  • Standardize the material and quality specifications by means of developing a grading system. There-fore a formula will be implemented as an algorithm within the platform to calculate or transform the entered data.
  • Provide PCR plastics classification as well as data on availability and traceability e.g. on material volume and quality to enable and enforce financial and planning security for all actors.

Carry out a validation trial of the platform including front-end visualisation and back-end server struc-ture for different platform users. Iteratively improve the platform towards more practicability, useful-ness and therefore more recycling efficiency.


Work Package 7

Circular economy solutions for the environmentally sustainable reuse of PCR plastics - large scale demonstration prototypes

The main goal of WP7 is to bring together the knowledge gained from previous work packages into mul-tiple large-scale demonstrators for the effective re-use of PCR plastics from WEEE. This will result in several individual products being developed with these materials. For each of these tasks, a close coop-eration is planned between companies of different EEE sectors and academic partners. This will allow performing multiple series of initial production tests at the laboratories of the academic partners to obtain a better understanding of the possible reasons of failure and the allowed tolerances and to subsequently perform large scale tests at the facilities of the industrial partners. Polymer processing and the fine-tuning thereof is an inherent part of each demonstrator development and is not considered separately.

Additionally, it will be investigated in how far these PCR plastics can be implemented in the emerging technology of 3D printing.

This WP will start reasonably early so that for every demonstrator it can be decided what polymer will be used to manufacture the product from and what technical requirements this polymer should have. This is important input for the compounding in task 5.4. While the recycled compounds are developed in WP5, activities on this WP will be dormant or limited to the product design process. Once the polymers from WP5 are available, this WP will be fully launched. So we have a peak moment in M6 to M12, a semi-active period then until M24, where only task 7.1 is running and finally full progress from M24 until M42 on.


Work Package 8

Support for Life Cycle Thinking and Environmental Assessment

The main objective of this work package is to support the achievement of the environmental and re-source efficiency goals set out in the description of the target impacts (section 2.1.1). The technologies and demonstrators developed in the previous WPs will be supported towards environmental and eco-nomic sustainability as described in the specific objectives:

  • Explore key design features for enhanced product repairability and material recyclability and inte-grate them into the product development. Guidelines on how to integrate life cycle thinking into prod-uct design and how to design with PCR plastics will make sure that the project know-how is multi-plied and the positive impacts achieved in the project reach relevant stakeholders outside the project.
  • Verify the goals regarding resource gains and the environmental benefits set for the project through resource efficiency analysis and life cycle assessment approaches in line with line with the recom-mendations and reference data from the European Platform on Life Cycle Assessment. The results will be fed back into the development processes and design decisions.
  • Evaluate the economic sustainability benefit by evaluating the profit per unit or profitability per unit of materials. Consideration will also be given to market share, material, water and energy savings.
  • Accelerate the positive impacts and capacity building by providing support and guidance to electronic product designers and manufacturers and university students.
  • For that, technical workshops and PolyCE Academies will be organized with the aim to provide tech-nical know-how on integration of environmental aspects during the product concept and design stag-es, including design and material choices, influencing product durability, robustness, repair, reuse and recycling.

Work Package 9

Impact and scale up: consumer engagement, dissemination, exploitation and policy measures

The main goal of WP 9 is to raise general awareness of project works ensuring multiplication and scale up of potential project results and thus increase the added value and impact of the project through (i) consumer engagement, (ii) dissemination and exploitation, (iii) policy measures. The specific objectives of WP 9 are:

  • Maximize the communication between consortium and external stakeholders incl. the support of data exchange, discussions and other exchanges on the development and achievement of the project work, and goals.
  • Support the identification and recruitment of further project associates during the course of the pro-ject and additional experts, which would benefit from and contribute to the project works.
  • Promote and share the outcomes of the project during the whole period of the project and more in-tensively in the last project year by organizing three dissemination events.
  • Support the policy makers to develop and implement harmonized policy framework encouraging in-novative solutions for EU Circular Economy Package.