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NUTEC Plastics: The Philippines Forges Ahead with Radiation Technology for Plastic Recycling


IAEA Deputy Director General for Technical Cooperation Hua Liu provided a keynote address at the National Stakeholders Meeting on NUTEC Plastics in Manila, Philippines.  (Photo: PNRI, Philippines)

A project in the Philippines, supported by the IAEA’s NUTEC Plastics initiative, aims to reduce the amount of plastic waste the country generates by using radiation to strengthen the discarded plastic and make it suitable for recycled materials and products.

“The Philippines generates an estimate of 61 000 metric tons of solid waste daily, up to 24 per cent of which is plastic,” explained Carlo Arcilla, Director of the Philippine Nuclear Research Institute (PRNI) in the Department of Science and Technology.  “According to recent figures, the country is one of the world's largest contributors of plastic waste leaking into the ocean.”

Marine plastic pollution is threatening the fisheries and aquaculture industry of the Philippines — the 11th largest in the world. More than 300 000 tonnes of plastic enter the ocean each year from coastal areas and settlements in Manila Bay, of which 80 per cent are plastics used for packaging.

To tackle this problem, the Philippines recently introduced an Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) Law, which means companies are now responsible for the plastic packaging they use to protect, transport, and sell their products.  As a result, some companies have started producing goods from recycled plastics. But this is not always possible due to the quality of the plastic waste.

“One major barrier to conventional plastic recycling is that recycling reduces the quality of the plastic and pellets produced,” said Arcilla. “When compared to products made from virgin resins, those made from recycled plastics frequently suffer in mechanical properties.”

Working with the IAEA’s NUTEC Plastics initiative, the Philippines is now focusing on applying nuclear technology to meet the challenge of plastic pollution, with the goal of adding value to plastic waste, and preventing it from reaching the ocean at all. The country has made important strides in recent months in testing out plastic recycling using radiation technology.

“In the PREx Project that is being implemented by the PNRI and supported by the NUTEC Plastic Project of the IAEA, we aim to use radiation to enhance the thermomechanical strength of materials produced from plastic wastes, allowing for more applications for recycled plastics. If we are successful, we will be able to contribute to the production of stronger materials from recycled plastics that may be used in a variety of applications, such as house construction projects,” Arcilla said.

Sharing National Stakeholder Experiences

In November, more than 70 regional experts, industry stakeholders and government representatives working on NUTEC Plastics in the Asia and the Pacific region attended a National Stakeholders Meeting in Manilla, supported through a regional IAEA technical cooperation project.1 The meeting was opened by Renato Solidum, Secretary of Science and Technology of the Philippines, who stressed the country’s commitment to innovative solutions to support environmental sustainability. IAEA Deputy Director General Hua Liu, also speaking at the opening of the event, focused on upstream disposal measures and policies.

“Through our ongoing regional project, four pilot countries — namely the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia and subsequently Thailand — have made important strides forward, successfully completing an experimental proof of concept for plastic recycling using nuclear technology,” Liu said.

The Philippines' innovative approach to creating stronger and more flexible construction materials from post-radiation reactive extrusion of plastic waste, as part of the NUTEC Plastics Project, was a key highlight of the National Stakeholders Meeting, as the country’s achievement of the transition from proof of concept to the development phase is a significant project milestone. It follows the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding in July 2023 between the Philippine Nuclear Research Institute (PNRI), ITDI and Envirotech on collaboration through the government-funded PREx Plastic Project.

“The Philippines, as well as other NUTEC pilot countries, are making good progress, with solid scientific evidence for the effectiveness and efficiency of these new recycling processes,” said Najat Mokhtar, IAEA Deputy Director General and Head of the Department of Nuclear Sciences and Applications. “Now is the time for engaging the private sector to scale up these efforts for the potential commercial market.”           

Building Capacities for Upstream Plastics Disposal

Participants at the Regional Training Course on expanding the use of low and medium e-beam accelerator for surface modification for polymer waste recycling. (Photo: PNRI)

A regional training course in Manila was held in parallel to the National Stakeholders Meeting. Hosted by the PNRI, it offered in-depth instruction in the use of low- and medium-energy e-beam accelerators for polymer waste recycling. The four-day course allowed 19 participants from six countries (China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Sri Lanka and Thailand) to gain expertise in the latest radiation-assisted technologies for plastic waste management. The course covered a broad range of topics, from basic concepts of radiation chemistry to advanced techniques in surface modification of polymers.

Closing One Chapter, Starting the Next

On 10 November 2023, the final coordination meeting of the regional project took place to allow participating countries to take stock of the progress achieved, and to share their experiences in confronting the transnational threats of marine plastic pollution.

“This meeting was pivotal in outlining the transition from the research phase to the development phase of radiation-based recycling technologies,” said Celina Horak, Technical Officer for the Project and Head of the IAEA Radioisotope Products and Radiation Technology Section. “It set the stage for the upcoming, follow-up project under Phase 2 of NUTEC, which will aim to achieve significant milestones in the technology readiness levels (TRLs) of the participating Member States,” she concluded.

The follow-up project, launched in January 2024, focuses on moving the recycling technology beyond foundational research to small-scale prototypes, and eventually to large-scale prototype systems.


1 RAS1024, ‘Reutilizing and Recycling Polymeric Waste through Radiation Modification for the Production of Industrial Goods’    

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