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Recycling sits at the heart of the EU's plastics strategy. For this to be a success, however, more brand product manufacturers need to use recycled materials.

Recycling sits at the heart of the EU's plastics strategy. For this to be a success, however, more brand product manufacturers need to use recycled materials. If the forecasts are true, the global demand for plastic will double in the next 20 years. Today, the largest proportion of plastic is derived from crude oil as a primary material. However, the EU and recycling companies want to noticeably increase the share of recycled plastic in the future.

"The manufacturers will not suffer any losses when the share of recycled materials increases," comments Manfred Hackl, CEO of Erema Group GmbH, a recycling company from the Austrian town of Ansfelden. "The new plastic industry has recognized that there is room in the market for everyone. Also, manufacturers of new plastic are under pressure due to the poor image of plastic," explains Hackl. The CEO believes that manufacturers would have an even bigger problem if the plastics industry were unable to work together to solve its image problem.

Developing technologies

This is another reason why the recycling specialist is continuing to develop its technologies. "It would be presumptuous to say that our industry already has all the technologies needed to completely close the loop. But with the technologies available in the market today, this is certainly possible to a great extent," comments Erema boss Hackl, adding that few could have imagined high-quality regranulate for new end products being produced from household waste just a few years ago. 

Creating better sales markets

The industry is delivering, but the consumers are still holding back. "The sales market for regranulate must be expanded," believes Hackl. He adds that the brand manufacturers play a decisive role here.

For example, the circular economy for PET bottles is already up and running, primarily because drinks manufacturers created a market for this 15 years ago through their commitment to recycling. Collections systems were set up first, followed by growing recycling capacities.

Price disadvantages prevent circular economy

Today, due to the comparatively low quantities, high-quality regranulates can be more expensive than primary plastic. After all, recycling is costly. The plastic waste received at the collecting points is unsorted and usually very dirty. Lots of water and energy are needed to recycle this material into a high-quality regranulate. "In the long term, regranulate should be neither expensive nor much cheaper than new plastic if it can be used appropriately in the respective end application," says Hackl. As soon as recyclers and manufacturers of new plastic process the same quantities, it will quickly become evident who can produce most cost-effectively.

Recycling-oriented product design necessary

The PET cycle is also a success because the manufacturers were able to agree on labels and adhesives that are easier to recycle. But this method of thinking is not yet widespread. "In the future, every specification sheet must also contain an answer to the question of recycling possibilities," demands Hackl. This currently cannot be found anywhere, he adds. The result: good products with good properties - but that are not suitable for recycling.

Joint efforts

The industry has not only been tackling circular economy solutions since the European Commission presented its plastics strategy in January: European companies are already cooperating throughout the entire value chain with initiatives such as Petcore, PRE or Ceflex. Their goal is to establish a Europe-wide collecting, sorting and recycling infrastructure for packaging waste by 2025. "Here we can work together as a European industry to show how the cycle can be closed," explains Hackl.

Further Information

VDMAimpulse 04-2018: "Plastic is valuable"   |   VDMA Plastics and Rubber Machinery   |   VDMA Technology, Environment and Sustainability

Ina Vettkötter, VDMA Plastics and Rubber Machinery.