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K 2013: Recycling is the future for European plastics industry
Source:    Author:    Date:18.Sep.2013

Whereas the plastics industry in the 1960s through to the 1980s gave little thought to sensible ways of disposing of or recovering waste plastics, the issue had shifted into the spotlight by 1991 at the latest when the German Packaging Ordinance came into effect.


According to Messe Düsseldorf, organizer of K 2013, Germany was the first country to set up rules for the recovery of plastics waste and establish them on the market. Nowadays, many European countries have addressed the issue and developed highly successful strategies for collection and recovery.


Germany the first country to set up rules for recycling plastics


A PlasticsEurope survey reviewed that about 47 million tons of plastics were consumed in the 27 countries of the EU plus Switzerland and Norway in 2011, 40% for non-durable and 60% for durable applications. In the same year, around 25 million tons of waste plastics were collected, 40% going to landfill and 60% being recovered.


Used packages accounted for most of the waste collected from the system, at 60%, followed by products from the construction, automotive and electronics sectors. Collection systems exists in nine European countries, including Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Belgium, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands and Luxemburg, with collection rates ranging from 92-99%. Six of these countries, Norway, Sweden, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and Austria have the highest recycling rates ranging from 26-35%. Other collected wastes were used to generate energy by incineration.


Not only has the quantity of collected wastes risen in the last five years, but also the recycling rate, with a corresponding reduction in the quantity going to landfill. Nevertheless, plastics recycling still has huge growth potential, particularly in countries where current recovery rates are still low.


Recycling rates keep increasing in Europe


Experts are also critical of the classification of “waste to energy” incineration as a sensible form of recovery for plastics. In Germany, 95% of all waste incinerators are classed as “recovery plants” and are thus licensed to generate energy. According to Michael Scriba, Managing Director of plastics processor mtm plastics in Germany, it is undisputed that energy recovery makes less ecological sense than materials recycling.


Detailed information on recycling activities in Germany is supplied by the Consultic study published every two years on behalf of BKV, PlasticsEurope Deutschland e.V, bvse, the Association for Plastics and Rubber Machinery within the VDMA (German Engineering Federation) and IK Industrieverband Kunststoffverpackungen e.V. (German Association for Plastics Packagings and Films).


According to the latest study, about 5 million tons of plastics wastes were generated in Germany in 2011, with 82% coming from post-consumer applications. For the remaining 18%, consisting of production wastes, a materials recycling rate of 90% is achieved.


For pure-grade sorted production wastes, direct in-house recycling has become established at most processing plants. For post-consumer wastes, the recycling rate is only 30 to 35%, although here, too, workable solutions have been found and are in place for sorted single-grade waste fractions, e.g. for PVC and PET.


Large variety of PET recycling technologies available


PET bottles are also amenable to single-grade sorted-waste collection and processing. The spectrum of products made from them range from fibers and films to new bottles. A large variety of suppliers like the Austrian companies Starlinger & Co. GmbH, NGR GmbH and EREMA GmbH in Ansfelden have developed special recycling lines for PET. Gneuss Kunststofftechnik GmbH in Germany has launched the MRS extruder, for which an US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval has been obtained.


In addition, machine manufacturers are contributing various drying systems like the infrared rotating drum from Kreyenborg Plant Technology GmbH, special filtrations systems for the processing of PET and also crystallization processes like Crystall-Cut from Automatik Plastics Machinery. Closed-circuit systems like PETcycle have become established for actually turning old bottles into new ones. In short, PET recycling, achieving a market volume of 1 million tons per year in Europe, does indeed work.


The situation is similar for pure-grade materials streams of PE and PP and for materials streams that can be readily realized with suitable separation processes. In Germany alone, there are about 10 large and many small processors specializing in producing injection-moldable regranulated materials from commercial and household polyolefin wastes. These can be used for a wide range of products such as pallets, troughs, buckets and pipes.


Obstacles to be handled


Plastics items of different materials that cannot be sensibly separated constitute a further obstacle to recycling, as do products whose residues are difficult to entirely remove. Problems are also created by post-consumer film wastes, as they manifest a very poor ratio of surface area to contamination and therefore require laborious treatment.


According to Scriba, there are indeed successful recovery specialists, but as yet no established sales markets with a Europe-wide reach. Further challenges are posed by non-beverage bottles made of PET in a huge variety of types, which also have limited recoverability. Much the same applies to plastics from car and electronics residuals.


For such challenges, processors and machine manufacturers worked together for appropriate solutions. For example, one solution for post-consumer film wastes from DSD collections has been recently supplied by Herbold Meckesheim GmbH in Germany to the waste disposal company WRZ-H?rger GmbH & Co. KG.


Processors and machine manufacturers join forces to develop new technology


The turnkey plant, consisting of a separation device for removing extraneous substances, a wet shredding step and a Plastcompactor, converts 7,000 tons of wastes per year into free-flowing agglomerates with a high bulk density that can be used for the production of injection moldings.


Especially for mixed fractions, EREMA has teamed up with Coperion GmbH & Co. KG to develop their Corema, a combined recycling and compounding line. Characteristic of this unit is its suitability for a wide range of materials. According to EREMA Managing Director Manfred Hackl, this is an ideal machine for processing mixtures of materials obtainable at low cost and for converting PP nonwoven wastes into a compound with 20% talcum and for processing PET/PE mixtures with additives.


Another special solution is the MRS extrusion system supplied to K2 Polymers in the UK for the processing of polyamide (PA) 11 regrind. The feedstock comes from deep-sea oil pipes recovered from a depleted oilfield and brought ashore. After decades of service, these pipes are highly contaminated with oil. The Multi Rotation System (MRS) extruder manages to decontaminate and reprocess this high-grade plastics waste in a single step and without chemical washing.


It can be said that, overall, the recycling sector has developed in the last few years into an important branch of industry. Although many processes have already become established, recycling still has plenty of potential for improvement. A first step could be the recyclable design of plastics items that should be examined closely with a view to later recovery.


Suitable recycling processes and machine solutions for the processing of problematical wastes offer a good deal of scope for further development. Also worthy of improvement in some respects are policies to enforce suitable collection and recovery systems in all countries and to prohibit waste trading and exportation.      


(Source: Messe Düsseldorf)




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