Plastic's sustainable journey

In line with its commitment to circular economy and sustainable development, Acea’s activities include selecting and recycling plastic packaging at the Beinasco plant, one of the main plastic recycling selection centers in Italy. A Secondary Selection Center (CSS) where plastic and plastic and metal packaging – mainly collected in the regions of Valle d’Aosta and Piedmont – is selected before starting the recycling process.

In 2019, in Italy the amount of waste prepared for recycling increased by 13% compared to the previous year. Households collected 1,378,000 tons of plastic packaging, approximately 22.8 kg/person/year; 617,000 kg were recycled, and the rest was used to produce energy as an alternative to fossil fuels.

Plastic selection at the Beinasco Plant

At the plant, plastic undergoes an industrial selection process that is almost completely automated.

After the initial stage of domestic recycling performed at home by consumers, selection is the essential stage before the proper recycling process can start. This preliminary stage includes two carefully performed steps: removing any foreign objects that may compromise the industrial treatment process and sorting the various types of plastic based on the different polymer matrix composites (liquid food containers are sorted by color).

Plastic is not all the same: it is made using a combination of different polymers and comes in different colors. Selection plants like the one in Beinasco sort it in compatible and homogeneous groups, to increase the ways in which the recycled material can be used and diffused.
The different types of plastic enter the plant on conveyor belts. Operators start by manually selecting the largest objects and removing any unwanted waste.

Inside the plant: plastic packaging selection steps

Pre-selection

Voluminous objects are selected by hand and removed.

Bag opening

Bags are torn automatically and sent to the relevant valorization section; content is placed on conveyor belts.

Size sorting

Plastic items are sorted based on dimension. Smaller pieces are sieved out and sent to a dedicated section, the rest continues its journey.

Ballistic sorting

Items that roll are separated from flat items by the movement of the machine.

Magnetic sorting

Iron and metal parts are sorted and collected in containers to be sold or recycled.

Automatic selection

Containers and bottles are sorted based on color and polymer type. Special state-of-the-art machines sort these plastic items blowing air to send them into collection silos.

Manual quality control

The different types of plastic selected by the machines undergo a careful and essential quality check performed manually by operators.

Crushing

Plastic packaging, now sorted based on type and color, is crushed in bales of approximately 1 m3, ready to be send to the companies who deal with transformation.

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The central stages of the recycling process are carried out completely automatically by state-of-the-art machines. Such as the so-called “optical sorters”, which perform the most important step of the selection: sorting plastic by polymer type and color using infrared spectroscopy to identify the items on the conveyor belt based on the reflection of the radiation.

At the end of the industrial selection, recyclable plastic is prepared to leave the plant: it is manually checked by operators and bales are stacked ready to be sent to plants in order to be washed and recycled. 

The different types of plastic leave the Selection Plant separately

PET
Pale blue, multicolor, transparent/white and opaque bottles
HDPE
High-density polyethylene containers used for detergents
Polyethylene film
Plastic bags, bottle packaging, packaging film sorted by size
IPP
Polypropene rigid containers
VPET
Storage containers for food
Crates
Fruit and vegetable crates
Plasmix
A mix of different types of rigid and flexible plastic

The acquisition of Demap, the company that owns the plant in Beinasco, was just the first step Acea Group took towards plastic valorization, a sector in which it intends to make its mark. The plant has the potential to process up to 75,000 tons of materials per year.

Acea also acquired Ferrocart, Cavallari, and Multigreen, who own four plants in the provinces of Terni and Ancona where they are involved in the selection of paper, iron, wood, plastic, and metal, with a total capacity of over 145,000 tons per year. They also recycle production and packaging waste and manage waste disposal, mainly on behalf of Corepla (“National Consortium for the Collection, Recycling and Reuse of Plastic Packaging”).

Demap is an essential part of a successful model of circular economy. The activities carried out over the years have allowed to recycle hundreds of thousands of tons of plastic offering an excellent service to local communities and entities, becoming one of the top 10 selection companies in Italy, both in terms of capacity and technology used.
Changes in regulations at European level urge the sector to take on more ambitious challenges, and in the next few years Demap will no doubt be once more among the protagonists, supported in this new strive for growth by the experience and solidity of the Acea Group.

Michele Rizzello, Director General of Demap

To grow in the plastic processing sector, Acea aims to consolidate the companies it has acquired and pursue new M&A ventures that will enable it to increase its recycling capacity and reach 2.9 million tons by 2024 (link cs piano industriale https://www.gruppo.acea.it/media/comunicati-price-sensitive/2020/10/il-consiglio-di-amministrazione-approva-piano-industriale-2020-2024).

Acea’s commitment to circular economy and to recycled plastic processing will contribute to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals in the UN 2030 Agenda. In particular, Sustainable Goal 12: Sustainable consumption and production patterns, focused on recycling waste. To protect the environment and the ecosystems of the future, recycled plastic will make increasingly more sustainable journeys to reach specialized selection and treatment recycling centers.