• Prof Ed Kosior, founder of Nextek, and innovation lead on the COtooCLEAN project.
    Prof Ed Kosior, founder of Nextek, and innovation lead on the COtooCLEAN project.

As Australia digs deep to find solutions for soft plastic recycling in the wake of recent events, a new process for decontaminating post-consumer polyolefin films has gained global recognition and the US$3m Alliance Prize for Circular Solutions in Flexibles that could see it upscale to commercial levels, with scope for uptake in the Australian market in the future. PKN spoke to the innovation lead, Prof Ed Kosior, founder of Nextek.

Ahead of the awards night held in New York on 29 November, PKN sat down with Prof Ed Kosior to record a podcast to discuss circularity for plastics packaging. Also discussed was Nextek's COtooCLEAN breakthrough process, and how the $3m would be spent should Nextek win. You can listen to the podcast here.

Commenting on the win, Kosior said, "What an amazing day to have the Alliance to End Plastic Waste select the COtooCLEAN technology as the winner of the Alliance Prize for circular solutions for plastics films. It is a great honour and responsibility to be selected as the winning technology for one of the big challenges facing our planet. Thanks to all our COtooCLEAN members and the teams that have made this project what it is and we collectively look forward to implementing this technology on a commercial scale."

The COtooCLEAN process.
The COtooCLEAN process.

As Kosior explains, currently the recycling of films is greatly held back by the absence of a technology that can decontaminate post-consumer polyolefin (LDPE, LLDPE, HDPE, PP) films back into food-grade material. Existing processes use a mixture of aqueous or organic solvent washing, drying and thermal desorption. These processes are unable to reach food-grade compliance yet are still energy intensive and have a high environmental impact.

"The vision of COtooCLEAN is to fill the gap and achieve circularity for food-grade films by converting post-consumer film waste to the highest value recyclate that can be used in new films with recycled content for food contact applications. This will create high value end-markets for polyolefin films and ensure that recycling targets can be met," Kosior said.

The COtooCLEAN multiparticipant project, which was selected as one of five finalists from 600 entries to the Alliance award, aims to deliver what Kosior describes as a "revolutionary commercial process that can efficiently and effectively clean and decontaminate post-consumer polyolefin films to a food-grade status". It involves an innovative Supercritical Carbon Dioxide (ScCO2) cleaning process. According to Kosior, ScCO2 is a non-toxic, non-flammable and non-corrosive solvent that can selectively remove contaminants through use of co-solvents.

"In a single step, the process allows for the simultaneous removal of oils, inks, adhesives, labels and chemical contamination from post-consumer polyolefin films, using an environment-friendly process that can easily recycle the non-toxic solvent and separate the residues."

Alliance to End Plastic Waste said: "The COtooCLEAN process offers an impactful solution for the high levels of flexible film waste growing around the world. By creating circularity within food-grade films, the process will reduce demand for virgin resin and improve recycling rates of flexible films. In addition, by creating a new recycling stream (i.e. recyclate for food-grade film), COtooCLEAN will also divert film waste from landfill and lower value products.

"The relatively simple modification to the existing mechanical recycling process makes the potential impact of COtooCLEAN even greater because of its scalability to global adoption over time."



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