IFAT Industry Insights

From a yogurt cup to a new recycled product

Using the example of a yogurt cup representing all plastic packaging, a panel discussion at the IFAT impact Business Summit showed which recycling paths are already working well today and how things can continue in terms of plastics recycling.

With his statement Michael Perl, Sales Manager Sorting Technology at Sesotec GmbH, set the course for the panel: “Plastic is necessary for our lives. The only question is how we deal with it.”

The example of Europe's largest plastics recycling plant was used to show what state-of-the-art sorting and processing technology can already achieve for the recycling of plastic packaging today. The plant in Motala/Sweden has a throughput of twenty tons per hour and operates around the clock. “Our goal is to recycle a full 55 percent of all plastic packaging in Sweden by 2025,” said Mattias Philipsson, Managing Director of the plant. And this plant is intended to eventually process all plastic packaging produced in Sweden. However, there is still a long way to go.

Even if the recycled plastic material is already being used to make extremely useful things—such as vacuum cleaner nozzles, spectacle frames, children's toys or travel cases—and even if the recycled product is almost as good as new, as Patrick Henzler, Weima Maschinenbau GmbH emphasized, there is still plenty of room for improvement in terms of recycling rates and the value of the recycled materials. For example, the recycled material may still not be used for packaging food. Exception: the functioning PET-to-PET recycling.

“Plastic is necessary for our lives. The only question is how we deal with it.” Michael Perl, Sesotec GmbH Shutterstock, sasha2538

Three measures to improve plastics recycling

All participants in the discussion agreed that regarding the further development three measures are needed to further promote plastics recycling:

  • design products to be more recyclable,
  • raise awareness of the final consumer to ensure better pre-sorting,
  • set quotas by (EU) policy makers so that more recycled material can be incorporated into new plastic products.

Michael Perl added that it would also make sense to focus on a manageable number of plastic types to further perfect recycling. The Swedish plant in Motala, for example, can separate ten different types of plastic.

Poor marks for bioplastics

The panel was less convinced about the use of biodegradable plastics. Anyone who uses bioplastics in the hope that they will be rapidly degraded in the environment is deluded. According to Perl, bioplastics pose a problem for existing sorting technology because it is currently not possible to identify them precisely. For this type of plastic, a separate path would have to be established. However, the panel participants agreed that such a development was not very promising.

Organizer: Mechanical Engineering Industry Association (VDMA)—Waste Treatment and Recycling Association

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