Circular Plastics Economy

Fraunhofer Clusters of Excellence

Circular Plastics Economy
© shutterstock/Composing: Fraunhofer UMSICHT

It is time for a circular plastics economy

Plastics are very versatile: Their low weight makes them irreplaceable for resource-efficient products. The raw material base is slowly opening up to biogenic sources. Plastic production is growing steadily. Almost 350 million metric tons of plastics are produced worldwide.

And yet, plastic is barely appreciated by the population and is considered a disposable item. Too many plastics end up in incineration or in the ground and oceans at the end of their life. Governments and authorities around the globe are initiating government measures to combat plastics in the environment. The EU published its Plastics Strategy with far-reaching measures at the beginning of 2018. Environmental associations and stakeholders are adding plastics to the list of major environmental polluters. It is time to take action. Plastic is too valuable a material to be given a bad name. The Solution: The plastics economy must become circular.

Circular plastics economy

The basic idea behind the circular plastics economy is simple:

  • minimize the extraction of fossil resources and end-of-life losses
  • and, at the same time, enable the real recycling of plastic.

The transition from today’s globally still largely linear system to a circular system necessitates systemic, technical, and social innovations and value creation networks that are adapted to them. This transformation is complex. It requires a plastics revolution that can only be achieved by adopting a multistakeholder approach – along and at the interfaces of the value chain.

Circular Plastics Economy research cluster for a sustainable plastics revolution

The Fraunhofer Cluster of Excellence sets the course for the transition from a linear to a circular plastics economy. The Fraunhofer Institutes UMSICHT (management), IAP, ICT, IML, and LBF launched the Fraunhofer Cluster of Excellence "Circular Plastics Economy" in November 2018.

They develop system capabilities for the circular plastics economy. The research cluster will run for five years and will be consolidated as a virtual institute.

Virtual institute for the circular plastics economy

What is new is that science is intertwined with business development in the cluster right from the start in order to provide market-relevant prototypes. Fraunhofer UMSICHT invites stakeholders from industry and science to help shape this virtual institute for a circular plastics economy and to collaborate on solutions within the research cluster.

Fraunhofer Cluster of Excellence

Fraunhofer Clusters of Excellence combine the competencies of institutes to investigate relevant topics with scientific excellence. The aim is to establish virtual institutes with international visibility.

Fraunhofer Institutes involved

  • Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Polymer Research IAP, Potsdam
    Prof. Dr. Alexander Böker
    www.iap.fraunhofer.de/en/
  • Fraunhofer Institute for Chemical Technology ICT, Pfinztal
    Prof. Dr. Peter Elsner
    www.ict.fraunhofer.de/en
  • Fraunhofer Institute for Material Flow and Logistics IML, Dortmund
    Prof. Dr. Uwe Clausen
    www.iml.fraunhofer.de/en   
  • Fraunhofer Institute for Structural Durability and System Reliability LBF, Darmstadt
    Prof. Dr. Tobias Melz
    www.lbf.fraunhofer.de/en
  • Fraunhofer Institute for Environmental, Safety, and Energy Technology UMSICHT, Oberhausen
    Prof. Dr. Eckhard Weidner (Management of the Cluster)
    www.umsicht.fraunhofer.de/en

Structure of the "Circular Plastics Economy" research cluster

 

Mission

Division Materials

We want to use plastics from a sustainable mix of resources to close material and biological cycles. We use circular principles to do this. Where appropriate, the degradation of plastics in and by nature is intensified. Released carbon dioxide is quickly bound in the material by means of photosynthesis.

 

Mission

Division Systems

Efficient collection and transport technologies go hand in hand with new material recycling processes to bring more plastics into material cycles. Digitally mapped processes and products enable ecological and economic real-time evaluations in order to design optimal value creation cycles.

 

Mission

Division Business

Fraunhofer researches and designs circular value creation chains and offers new system capabilities for plastics within the circular economy across industry boundaries: From circular design and component layout, recycling, and degradability to prototype design, acceptance processes, and business models.