This is how we form new value chains for the circular economy

The transition from fossil to sustainable raw materials affects the entire chain from the chemical industry, suppliers, the waste sector to end users. No party can afford to sit still or look for optimal solutions for themselves. The whole chain should go from linear to circular and preferably in a much higher gear. The sooner companies start doing this, the better the goals of a sustainable industry can be achieved.

Circularity, technology, behavior and new business models

“And it is entirely possible,” says Dr. Esther Zondervan, who is involved in circular plastics and recycling in TNO. “One condition, however, is that the large chemical groups start working with parties that have so far operated beyond their horizons, but which are necessary to take large, innovative initiatives. As a TNO, we give them a helping hand in the form of TNO Green Prints, concrete solutions to accelerate sustainability with partners in your value chain. Because this is where technology, behavior, circularity and new business models meet. These are all topics that we specialize in and that we address in connection with transitions. ‘

For this, we also develop system models with which we outline future scenarios, such as our plastic recycling impact scenario model. With this, TNO has shown that in an ideal situation, the Netherlands can be 87% circular by 2050.

“In an ideal situation, the Netherlands could be 87% circular by 2050.”

Infinite recycling

According to Esther Zondervan, the realization has recently come to light that the solo performance is outdated, and it’s time for a whole new approach. It requires a little getting used to for many parties, but it also provides a good future perspective for their own business, the region and society as a whole. For the road to circularity and less CO2 emissions may seem difficult, but at the same time it offers new opportunities on many fronts. Ultimately, it is about closing the chain of commonly used materials, such as plastics, thereby minimizing use and our dependence on oil. In other words: recycling to infinity.

Collaboration in chains

“This is also the reason why industries that have not known each other so far have to merge. Plastic is found in almost everything. These are food producers and their packaging, the automotive industry and their suppliers, construction, electronics and so on. They are not only meant to replace fossil raw materials with sustainable ones, but also to ensure that what they produce can be recycled in high quality. This is where the sorters and waste handlers come into the picture. As I said: only cooperation in chains and across sectors has a chance of success’, says Esther. Of course, recycling of plastic must also be promoted.

Many questions still unanswered

She is the first to acknowledge that this is a very complex problem that requires many different solutions. Major changes are underway for the entire ecosystem. It also means a new approach to policies and regulations, behavioral changes among producers and consumers, product design differently and redesign of logistics processes.

“How should we organize recycling in a future-proof way?”

“Everything is connected and many questions are still unanswered. How should we organize recycling in a future-proof way? Regionally or centrally, for which product flows, what does the revenue model look like for different parties, how do we shape the collection, sorting, sorting and recycling of waste “How do we ensure minimal losses in the chain? We are not done with the development of beautiful technologies alone.”

New recycling technologies

TNO considers the whole chain and how you can organize it optimally. We examine the impact of processes and products on the environment in the context of social and economic impact. Then we decide which steps are needed. In addition, TNO is developing technologies for the chemical recycling of plastics and processes for a more sustainable design of materials to bring circularity closer faster. These new technologies are complementary to current mechanical recycling technologies.

The number of plastic types must also be drastically reduced, so that sorting and recycling becomes easier further down the chain. The remaining varieties must be designed in such a way that they are always demonstrably high-quality recyclable. And for current generations, new technologies must ensure that many more substances can be recycled from products than today.

“By 2030, we can avoid 250 kilotons of naphtha from oil and 750 kilotons by 2040.”

‘We have already come a long way with new recycling technologies, such as thermal cracking with the Milena-Olga method, which we have developed together with partners. This allows us to efficiently recycle plastics that cannot yet be recycled. With this technology, the plastic is destroyed and reduced to the building blocks from which we make new plastic. Within a few years, we want to be able to apply this on a demo scale in our country, after which we can scale up to an industrial scale. For example, we could avoid 250 kilotons of naphtha from oil in 2030 and 750 kilotons in 2040. ‘


This brings her to a topical issue: microplastics. Much in the news, but there is still very little knowledge about where exactly they come from, how they are formed, and what risks there are to humans and nature. The focus here is primarily on packaging, tires and textiles.

Esther: “We will accurately characterize microplastics through research to identify the risks and prevent them from occurring. Ultimately, we want to realize a society that is one hundred percent circular. ‘

International cooperation

In its research into circularity and recycling, TNO collaborates with recognized industry and knowledge partners at home and abroad. A recent example is the European project SYSCHEMIQ, with Brightlands Chemelot Campus, SABIC, Maastricht University and about twenty other partners to accelerate the system transition to a circular economy in the region.

Would you like to know how TNO can help you find the right Green Print? Please contact Esther Zondervan.

TNO Green Print: customization enables sustainability

TNO works with partners and offers TNO knowledge, innovation and concrete solutions to companies, authorities and suppliers. In summary, we call this TNO Green Prints. A TNO Green Print is a blueprint to radically make your value chain in the industrial sector greener. Adaptation: from calculation models leading to new government policy, upscaling of electrolysis, to a CO2 capture solution for the chemical industry. All available knowledge, experience and innovations are processed into a concrete approach in these TNO Green Prints. In this way, you can contribute to the acceleration of a clean industry by 2050.

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