The incredible versatility of plastics has been a key ingredient in improving life and increasing living standards in today’s world. Plastics make our life more efficient, convenient and safe. However, with a linear economic model, plastic products are made, used and eventually disposed of. Continuing with this model will lead to more plastic waste and environmental pollution, while putting pressure on the planet’s limited resources.
The solution is to transition to a circular economy, where dependence on fossil feedstock is reduced and plastics are reused, recycled and made from renewable feedstock. A circular economy decouples economic growth from resource constraints, while reducing the leakage of waste into the environment. The circular economy will also reduce climate change, since the greenhouse gas emissions of products will be lowered compared to incineration by using mechanical and chemically recycled material, instead of virgin feedstock. The creation of a truly circular economy also has wider implications. It provides economic benefits to society by reducing the significant financial burden of ineffective waste management systems and pollution management, and it creates new business opportunities for Borealis, as well as employment at various stages of the value chain.
Borealis therefore has set itself the ambition to lead in this transformation and is intensively working towards offering an alternative to the linear make-use-dispose economy, across all its applications. To accelerate this journey, Borealis created Everminds™, a platform to accelerate action on circularity for plastic, to help inspire and create more impact for circular solutions.
To accelerate its transformation to a circular model, Borealis has created a dedicated department called Circular Economy Solutions and New Business Development. This group leads the execution of Borealis’ circular economy strategy across defined focus areas, such as chemical recycling or design for recyclability, as well as supporting all other Borealis business areas in their industry-specific transformation.
The Circular Economy Innovation Studio in Borealis’ Innovation Headquarters in Linz, Austria, remains the Group’s spearhead for technology and innovation, while the Digital Studio in Brussels, Belgium, is creating digital solutions for circularity. This setup enables Borealis to constantly learn and push innovation boundaries, while the business grows by offering customer-centric circular solutions, satisfying today’s needs.
As a consequence of the OMV Group acquiring a majority stake in Borealis, the companies have joined forces to expedite the transition from a linear to a circular economy. Several circular economy areas, such as chemical recycling, are now being jointly developed.
To transition to a truly circular and carbon-neutral economy, a variety of solutions are required to keep products circulating at their highest value, quality and utility over many lifetimes. Borealis therefore believes in using a full suite of carefully chosen technologies, in a complementary and cascading way, through the following hierarchy:
Borealis has defined a target for total production capacity for circular solutions of 0.6 million tonnes by 2025 and 1.8 million tonnes by 2030. In 2022, Borealis processed 117 kilotonnes of circular feedstock, up 21% compared to last year.
1) Total capacity for circular solutions established means circular supply capability of polymers (e.g., polyolefins) and chemicals (e.g., olefins) based on recycled content and/or biobased/renewable feedstock. // 2) Total circular feedstock processed covers the actual input of feedstock for mechanical and chemical recycling, as well as renewable feedstock.
Borealis’ foam business is a prime example of eco-efficient polyolefin solutions. This business line is used in industries such as packaging, sports, transport and construction, and helps facilitate the transition to a circular economy as it is especially suited to ultra-lightweight foam applications while being fully recyclable, thus enhancing resource saving.
Together with Bockatech EcoCore, which is a patented manufacturing technology, Borealis has developed a new lightweight cup to help the market switch from a single-use to multi-use packaging solution, thereby reducing packaging waste and carbon emissions. The development was showcased at three important value chain events in Europe and the Group signed its first contracts for three new applications with customers PACCOR and Jokey.
Reuse is a core part of Borealis’ integrated approach. Partnerships are vital for scaling up reuse activities and ensuring sustainable growth, and the Group strengthened its reuse commitment in 2022 by engaging in several collaborative projects with value chain partners.
After a successful pilot project in Borealis’ sites in Belgium, in which 1,300,000 disposable cups were replaced by 40,000 reusable cups, the reusable cup system has been commercially rolled out in all Belgian Borealis sites since April 2022. By focusing on the optimal design of the reusable cups and minimising the environmental impact, an annual raw material reduction of 70% can be realised. The pilot project involved close co-operation with all partners of the reuse system.
Borealis and Red-Use On-the-Go have agreed a three-year collaboration to develop and implement a circular business model in a reuse environment, supported by digital solutions and mechanical recycling. The focus is on reuse models in the events, B2B services and take-away markets. The partners will gain insights into optimal reuse design and circular material flows. Moreover, by making the packaging smart with Radio Frequency Identification (RfiD) tags or QR codes, the partners can retrieve and analyse data, which is crucial for measuring the performance of a reuse system.
In addition, Borealis has joined the 4everPack consortium, a two-year research programme run by the Finnish institute VTT and funded by Business Finland. The project aims to replace the linear economy with a fully circular model, focusing on the reusable packaging value chain. Borealis will provide its know-how and expertise in innovative material and packaging design for the selected reuse systems.
To promote Design for Recyclability, Borealis is actively promoting ten Codes of Conduct for polyolefin packaging designers. These are being incorporated into assessment methodologies for recyclability, for example, in future modulated Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) guidelines for packaging. Borealis also applies its innovation activities to offer alternatives to materials and material combinations that are not recyclable today. In addition, the Group collaborates with strategic value chain partners to expand its range of monomaterial solutions.
In October 2022, Borealis announced the launch of the first polypropylene (PP) grades based on the Borstar® Nextension Technology, a step change in performance for tailor-made PP that delivers superior properties for cast and blown film. The Borstar Nextension Technology is a breakthrough innovation that will enable the development of novel and more circular solutions for a wide range of applications, especially in the packaging industry.
Borealis is a member of the Holy Grail 2.0 digital watermarking project, which has now grown to more than 170 members, including more than 40 brand owners and retailers. In 2022, the project completed successful tests for phase 2, in which the HG 2.0 prototype digital watermark was tested for speed, accuracy and detection efficiency, in combination with near infrared and visual spectrum detection. Following the successful trials at two locations, brand owners started to bring products to market with digital watermarks in Germany, France and Denmark.
To support the transition to a circular economy, Borealis is building up its Borcycle™ portfolio to meet growing demand for high-quality recyclate that helps producers and brand owners to meet environmental and regulatory challenges.
Borcycle transforms plastic-waste streams into valueadding, high-performance and versatile solutions for demanding applications, with the portfolio including Borcycle M, based on mechanical recycling processes, and Borcycle C, which uses chemical recycling technology. In 2022, Borealis announced an important step towards expanding its advanced mechanical recycling capabilities, with the award of a design contract to establish a commercialscale plant in Schwechat, Austria. The design of the plant will be based on Borcycle M, Borealis’ advanced mechanical technology and will be operational in 2025, with the capacity to produce over 60 kilotonnes of circular solutions and compounds per year.
Borcycle C provides an important alternative to energy recovery and is suitable for very demanding applications such as food contact materials. During the year, Borealis and ITC Packaging jointly developed a series of more-sustainable rigid packaging formats that are suitable for food contact. The products use resins from both the Borcycle C and the Bornewables™ portfolios.
Borealis’ co-operation with OMV and its proprietary chemical recycling technology, ReOil®, is key to the Group’s circular economy strategy. After two years of continuous production in its ReOil100 pilot plant, OMV started construction of the ReOil2000 demonstration plant in 2022, with a target to start production in the second half of 2023.
In April 2021, Borealis began a feasibility study for establishing a chemical recycling unit at its location in Stenungsund, Sweden. In 2022, Borealis selected the engineering company and technology providers. In addition, the Swedish Energy Agency granted new funding of EUR 5.1 million to support the final study.
Borealis began a partnership with Renasci in 2021, to work on the innovative Smart Chain Processing concept, including a plastic to pyrolysis oils process. The project successfully continued in 2022, with Borealis taking a minority share.
The Bornewables portfolio of polyolefins made with renewable feedstock is the Group’s key solution for lowering the carbon footprint of plastic and its customers’ plastics applications. The life-cycle assessment published in 2021 showed that cradle-to-gate (meaning all the steps from sourcing raw materials to products leaving Borealis’ production site), Bornewables can go beyond carbon neutrality and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 120% compared to polyolefins produced with fossilbased feedstocks. This is possible while offering the same high-performance levels as virgin polyolefins and the ability to be recycled in the same way.
The Bornewables portfolio uses the International Sustainability & Carbon Certification (ISCC) PLUS mass balance certification. In 2022, the production location in Antwerp, Belgium, received ISCC PLUS certification, giving Borealis seven accredited European production locations. The Group therefore has an even broader production base for mass balanced products, such as the Bornewables and Borcycle C product ranges.
During 2022, Borealis continued to commercialise the Bornewables portfolio, including a range of significant developments launched at the K-Fair 2022 in Düsseldorf, Germany:
In addition, in June 2022 Borealis introduced the Borvida portfolio of circular base chemicals such as ethylene, propylene, butene and phenol. The portfolio is both complementary to and the building block for Bornewables. It will initially comprise Borvida B, from non-food waste biomass, and Borvida C, from chemically recycled waste. In the future, the range will evolve to include Borvida A, sourced from atmospheric carbon capture.
Borealis is also exploring the development of carbon capture technologies and the use of carbon emissions as a primary raw material, to accelerate the move away from fossil-based resources. In this regard, Borealis’ collaboration with Lanzatech, Technip Energies and On shoes has taken its first steps to capture and use atmospheric carbon monoxide as a feedstock.
In September 2022, the companies presented the world’s first ever shoe bottom unit made from carbon emissions. CleanCloud™ is the result of five years of dedicated work, which began with finding the best possible partners. This collaborative approach is key to overcoming the challenges of developing this complex technology at a commercial scale.
Technology from LanzaTech captures carbon emitted from industrial sources such as steel mills and ferments it to liquid ethanol. The ethanol is then dehydrated to create ethylene, which Borealis polymerises to become EV (a copolymer of ethylene vinyl acetate), the versatile and lightweight material that On starts working with to create a performance foam for shoes.
To expedite the circular transition of the polyolefins industry, it is imperative that the entire value chain collaborates. A circular polyolefins industry implies that all products are designed for recyclability, while quality waste streams become increasingly available for recycling operations. Higher waste collection rates and further improvements to the efficiency of waste sorting are prerequisites to advancing the Group’s recycling agenda. The willingness of converters and brand owners to value high percentages of recycled content in their products is equally important. All Borealis initiatives which demonstrate the Group’s progress in the circular economy are positioned under the EverMinds platform. The platform stands for accelerating and celebrating action in the circular economy based on partnerships and value chain co-operation.
During 2022, Borealis hosted 17 live webinars around sustainability and circular economy topics. The webinars were tailormade for all industry clusters and targeted customers and value chain partners. Examples of the topics covered included Bornewables for use in appliances, healthcare, foam, automotive, energy, infrastructure and food packaging applications. Most sessions were either hosted jointly with Borouge or with guest speakers from different companies and organisations, including ISCC, Beta-Gamma-Service GmbH, MARS, ENGEL, Oerlikon HRSflow and Reicofil. A cross-industry session about how to accelerate the transition towards a circular net zero business was hosted for more than 1,000 attendees. On average, each webinar had more than 500 registrations and an attendance rate of 50%. Recordings of the live sessions are offered to the target groups on-demand.
In February 2022, Borealis received a positive opinion on the commitment of EUR 20 million of funding from Business Finland, to launch the innovative “Sustainable Plastics Industry Transformation” or SPIRIT programme. SPIRIT aims to drive the transformation of the plastics industry in Finland by replacing conventional fossil fuel-based feedstocks with renewably sourced ones, developing technologies and processes for mechanical and chemical recycling of plastics, and decarbonising production operations through electrification, as well as the use of hydrogen and renewable energy sources.
Borealis has joined the Renewable Carbon Initiative, which aims to support and accelerate the transition from fossil carbon to renewable carbon for all organic chemicals and materials. The initiative looks to bring stakeholders together, provide information and shape policy, to strive for a climateneutral circular economy.
Grabher Group, a leading manufacturer of high-tech textiles, manufactures FFP2 face masks containing fully recyclable meltblown polypropylene supplied by Borealis. As face masks are quickly disposed of, many end up in landfill or as litter in the environment. To drive circularity, Grabher has started a novel collect-and-recycle scheme for used face masks, which turns them into new value-added products such as oil absorption fabrics.
Borealis and the Reclay Group established a new joint entity, called Recelerate. Combining the waste management expertise of Reclay and the high-quality recycling capabilities of Borealis, Recelerate is powered by a smart systems- thinking approach to ensure more post-consumer lightweight packaging is sorted and recycled into high-quality materials. Such an approach will offer brand owners the insights from the latest material developments and practical recycling expertise, and combine that with the EPR licensing capabilities of the Reclay Group, rewarding optimal packaging design for the future.
In 2023, Borealis will focus on the commercial ramping up of its circular portfolio and make further investments in mechanical and chemical production capacities, to move closer to the targets for 2025 and 2030. The Group will continue to support technology development for better sorting and recycling solutions and explore alternative business models such as closed-loop systems, and has an aspiration to publish long-term targets for its circular transition journey.