Polibienestar promotes Agro2Circular, a circular economy project in Murcia to recycle and revalue agri-food waste

The Research Institute on Social Welfare Policy (Polibienestar) of the University of Valencia has launched the Agro2Circular project, aimed at developing and implementing an innovative technological solution for recycling and revaluing the most significant agri-food waste, such as fruits, vegetables and multilayer plastics. The goal is to create a circular economy model in the region of Murcia that can be replicated in other European regions. Agro2Circular is funded by the European Commission through the European Green Deal (Horizon 2020), which promotes circular economy and environmental sustainability projects.

Agro2Circular is based on a technological solution that covers two main value chains: organic waste and multilayer plastics. The project ensures efficient and sustainable management by using specific technologies for each type of waste and a common digital solution. This digital solution uses blockchain to characterise products and ensure traceability along the value chain, guaranteeing transparency and trust in the recycling and revaluation processes.

For organic waste, technologies such as microwaves, organic substances and ultrasound are employed to extract valuable compounds like antioxidants and fibres. Additionally, encapsulation techniques are used to purify and stabilise these compounds, applying them to products derived from lemon, apple and grape. The aqueous residues are used to produce PHBV, a bioplastic.

For multilayer plastics, optical sorting technologies are implemented to identify and classify materials, along with innovations to separate aluminium and perform enzymatic recycling. This process degrades plastics into their basic building blocks using enzymes, allowing for the addition of the necessary characteristics for food packaging and agricultural uses.

From an environmental perspective, the project has identified the need to create a legal market for secondary raw materials to boost the circular economy. However, it is crucial to improve regulations for the revaluation of waste and the certification of products derived from these raw materials. Companies need incentives to adopt the circular economy and small companies face difficulties to invest in it due to a lack of funds.

The expected impact of Agro2Circular includes a significant reduction in waste and the promotion of the circular economy in the long term. The project aims to decouple economic activities from finite resources and greenhouse gas emissions, optimising the use ofresources and minimising negative externalities. It estimates a10.31% reduction in CO2 emissions related to food waste and 2% of total CO2 emissions in the EU. To ensure the effectiveness of the model developed in Murcia in other European regions, Agro2Circular adopts a systemic approach, creating materials and detailed guidelines adaptable to different contexts.

About Polibienestar,of the University of Valencia

Polibienestar, the Research Institute on Social Welfare Policy, is a public research institute of the University of Valencia, internationally recognised and specialised in research, innovation and social technology, technical advice and training in the field of social policies. For 20 years, it has been led by professor Jorge GarcÚs Ferrer, who hasconducted interdisciplinary applied research on the economic, social, political and technical sustainability of welfare systems.