Challenges

These are the challenges that distinct companies and entities have set for us so that participants in the programme can propose their solutions. 

However, programme participants also have the option of setting out solutions to challenges that they themselves provide, related to microplastics. 

Current situation
Varnishes are not currently separated from the raw material. Consequently, it is not known whether, for example, a piece of wood can still be deemed compostable.

Unresolved issues
Separation (using any method) of polyurethanes, acrylics, etc. of compostable material. Biodegradability of varnishes with polyurethane, acrylic, etc.

Challenge proposed by the Quadpack Foundation
Biodegradation of polyurethanes in varnishes, lacquers or wood-paint products

Current situation
SAN is a high value-added material that is used extensively in the cosmetics industry. It is gradually being replaced by PET, but this is not always possible. For this reason, its recyclability still needs studying in order to maintain commitments to include 30% recycled material planned for 2025.

Unresolved issues
Availability of post-consumer recycled SAN.

Challenge proposed by the Quadpack Foundation
Recycling and recovery of post-consumer SAN

Current situation
The detection of microplastics is still a central issue in determining their presence in different matrices, including water. In order to deal with new environmental directives, which are postulating microplastics as emerging pollutants, a fast and robust method is needed to detect them. Various analytical methodologies have already been developed but the validation and standardisation of methodologies is still far from being attained.

Unresolved issues
One of the unresolved issues in environmental samples is the preparation of complex water samples (e.g., wastewater or industrial water). The effect of the sample matrix may mask the results obtained.

Challenge proposed by AGBAR
Minimisation of the matrix effect in the detection of microplastics in wastewater and complex matrix samples.

Current situation
If we take into account the study of the standard bag by the Waste Agency (“Weigh your Bag” project),the selective collection of packaging stands at 46% of the total. This figure is probably lower because the number of disposable containers has increased in recent years through the consolidation and expansion of the sale of ready-to-eat food and take-away drinks. In fact, the packaging left by the public in the yellow waste container (plastics/wrapping) represents 6.44% of all waste collected. To this data it should be added that, 30% of materials deposited in the yellow waste containers are not actually packaging. In waste terminology, these materials are known as improper.

Unresolved issues
In short, this is a serious problem. Waste collection with significant financial costs, which only covers a small percentage of total waste; participation that is far short of ideal and an increase in the amount of waste generated, which cannot currently be quantified.

Challenge proposed by the Sant Cugat City Council
The challenge is to define the logistics of a system for washing and distributing glass containers for ready-to-eat food and glass cups for takeaway drinks. 

Current situation
All municipalities, and Sant Cugat is no exception, have services and maintenance that are carried out by the local administration. City councils are responsible for the maintenance of the city (sewerage and drinking water, lighting, tarmacking roads, road cleaning, waste collection, parks and gardens). This activity evidently generates plastics that can potentially be directly converted into microplastics (water and sewer pipes, plastic containers, tarmac on public roads, street furniture, paint, etc.) and also microplastics (tyre wear, acrylic clothing for municipal workers, playground soft paving, etc.) 

Unresolved issues
We have not currently identified the sources deriving directly from council activity. A highly detailed analysis of this is required in order to begin working on solutions and alternatives.

Challenge proposed by the Sant Cugat City Council
The challenge is to study the sources of production for plastics and microplastics and set out an initial pragmatic proposal of alternatives to reduce the amount of these elements that are dispersed throughout the environment.

Current situation
According to Wrap,polyester predominates in 89% of working clothes because of its durability, resistance to washing and discoloration, etc. Companies prefer this type of composition precisely for these features. In most cases, the worker tis responsible for washing this clothing. Some companies hire laundry services.

Unresolved issues

  • The domestic washing of work clothes with a predominance of polyester generates detachment of microparticles.
  • Workers need help in washing these clothes in a domestic environment, avoiding microparticle detachment.

Challenge proposed by the company Circoolar
Develop a proposal for household washing bags (for washing machines) that retain microplastics. This wash bag could be the same packaging bag for the product/item provided to the employee. 

Current situation
Recent studies point to wheeled traffic and, in particular, to tyre wear as a focus for microplastic generation. These microplastics accumulate on the roadside curbs and, particularly in conditions of rain, seep into the environment without going through a sanitation system. The RIVUS Foundation provides a tool to channel and convey conservation, study, knowledge and the involvement of citizens in preserving river areas within the scope of the Besòs Tordera Consortium, which is the local administration responsible for the sanitation of wastewater in the Besòs and Tordera basins.

Unresolved issues
The impact on the environment of microplastics from tyre wear.

Challenge of RIVUS Foundation
Quantification of these microplastics and their impact on the environment, as well as ascertaining passive treatment that helps to reduce this impact.

Current situation
According to results from several studies, microplastics are present in the food chain because, once released into the environment, they can easily be ingested by fish, livestock or poultry. Microplastic particles have also been found in drinking water (bottled or not) and their presence in the faeces of volunteers from various research projects is evidence that they enter the human body.

Unresolved issues
A massive quantity of microplastics is dragged downstream by rivers and dumped into the sea. These microplastics are largely from plastics dumped directly into the environment in an uncontrolled manner. As they do not biodegrade and disintegrate into smaller parts only through solar radiation, wind and waves, they are finally absorbed or ingested by many organisms.

The production of microplastics is estimated at about nine million tons per year. A figure that helped to better understand the scale of the problem would be the number of microplastics analysed per litre of seawater.

Since 1970, the fish population has halved. Although the main causes of this reduction are overfishing, the situation is aggravated by pollution, global warming and sea acidification. Additional negative effects of microplastic intake are reduced growth rates in fish that have ingested them, effects on reproduction, and a decreased population.

Challenge from la Conca
Establish a detection limit, or significant value, for considering a product microplastic-free

Current situation
Augusto Bellini, S.Lhas developed the ZYOSH solution, consisting of a label that changes colour with washes. This colour change provides an alert for users to know when the garment needs recycling. This happens when a specific number of washes are reached, causing the item to start emitting microparticles in an accelerated manner; these microparticles end up in the sea. 

The colour change in the label is obtained by the use of inks and chemicals, which are diluted at each wash until they are completely lost, when the number of washes for which it has been programmed has been reached.

Unresolved issues

  • Serious problem of microparticle emission during the washing of textile items.
  • Programming the duration of textile materials in industrial-washing environments.

Challenge proposed by Augusto Bellini, S.L.
Improve the current formulation with:

  • Mixtures of ink, hardeners and other materials that can be applied.
  • Textile substrate materials on which to apply the inks.
  • Solutions such as plasma finishes and other technologies, which help in the process of degrading inks in a programmed and constant way.

In order to obtain compounds and solutions for distinct wash and temperature types.

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