23 Jun

Parker O'Halloran

2 minute read

Using the power of geothermal to recycle plastics

Using the power of geothermal to recycle plastics

Pure North Recycling has a clear mission—to recycle as much plastic as possible, locally, and in the most environmentally friendly way possible.

Pure North Recycling is transforming plastic recycling by shifting it to a local process. Remarkably, it was more common for Iceland to ship plastic waste to mainland Europe or Asia for recycling—or incineration. While this is seemingly absurd, outsourcing our unwanted plastic is all too familiar.    

Icelanders dispose of 14,000 tons (40 kg/88 lb. per person) of plastic packaging yearly, recycling between 11-13%. Thus, there is an exceptional opportunity to increase recycling, reduce unnecessary shipping of more plastic, and save our oceans from plastic waste by using plastic again locally within a circular economy. 

Pure North uses extremely hot geothermal wastewater to clean the plastic in Hveragerði, a town 45 km (28 miles) from Reykjavík. This geothermal water is much hotter than the water used in Europe and Asia for recycling plastics and does not require extra energy to be heated up. Using such hot water eliminates the need for gas scrubbing or chemicals in the cleaning process. Pure North uses geothermal heat to dry the plastics, and the electricity for other processing is sourced from renewables. 

Hay bails wrapped in plastic are a common sight in Iceland

Each ton of plastic recycled by Pure North saves 0.7 tons of CO2 equivalent and 1.8 tons of oil compared to producing an extra "new" ton of plastic. In addition, Pure North's processing technique sees additional carbon dioxide savings of 1.52 CO2 equivalent per ton compared to recycling plastic in Europe or Asia, according to a comparative Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) of recycling work at Pure North by Resource International. 

Pure North currently recycles 2,500 tons of plastic hay-baling waste per year—Iceland's largest plastic waste source. It has plans to double its production to 5,000 tons by 2021. Ten large Icelandic companies have signed a cooperation agreement to recycle their plastic, including The Blue Lagoon, BM Vallá, Brim, CCEP, Eimskip, Krónan, Lýsi, Marel, Mjólkursamsalan, and Össur.  

Pure North Recycling estimates that it can scale up production capacity to 20,000 tons per year—more than is currently imported annually. The company envisions a future where all the plastic in Iceland is recycled locally over and over.   

For more on Pure North Recycling, see Green by Iceland

This article was written by Parker O'Halloran

Parker is a seasoned writer and editor living in Reykjavik, Iceland.

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