Photo credit: V?slauer Thermalbad GmbH

Teamwork and Respect — Sustainability at Vöslauer A company principle in action

PET Bottles, PET Recycling and rePET — Over 20 Years of Development

The Vöslauer production site in Lower Austria, not far from Vienna, is buzzing with activity. A steady stream of lorries enters the site while others leave at the same brisk pace.

We touched on this during our talk with Herbert Schlossnikl, Managing Director of the mineral water bottling company Vöslauer Mineralwasser GmbH, when we met him at his workplace in April 2019. Logistics and transport are two of many central points in Vöslauer Mineralwasser GmbH’s sustainability report. “At the moment, lorries are the most cost-effective solution for us. But one of our sustainability goals is to transition from road to rail. We currently transport about 30% of our goods by train. We want to significantly increase that percentage.”

Core values

Sustainability has traditionally been an important value at Vöslauer. The company has published eight sustainability reports since 2008 — comprehensive documents covering the company, its products and its water source /1/. One whole chapter is dedicated to packaging and recycling, while another is titled “Number 1 in climate protection”. Other core values are gender equality and equal opportunity employment, work-life balance, diversity, and health and safety for all employees — “a culture of respect”, as it was described in the most recent report published in 2017. The company takes its responsibility to the local region seriously, including both its source and the surrounding area. Compliance is an inherent part of the company’s ethics, and Vöslauer takes a comprehensive approach to raising awareness of sustainability among staff, suppliers and customers alike.

The occasion for our visit is the recent introduction of bottles made from 100% recycled PET. We already knew that Vöslauer was a trailblazer for PET within the filling industry, and that it was one of the first businesses to start working on processing and recycling used PET. We’ve also seen similar initiatives from other companies. In particular, many manufacturers have recently announced efforts to step up the use of recyclate in the interests of sustainability and the environment. But there are still complaints that processing recycled PET causes problems in bottle production and filling; the debate surrounding recycled PET for drinks bottles is (still) a heated one. We’re interested in the specific path that PET and its recyclate follow at Vöslauer Mineralwasser GmbH, a regional business, compared with the big multinationals.

Herbert Schlossnikl, Managing Director of Vöslauer Mineralwasser GmbH, isn’t the type to complain. He comes across as forward-looking and optimistic, a typical engineer focused on finding solutions. In his years as Director of Engineering, he worked closely with beverage packaging technology. It was back then that we got to know each other personally, and still today he speaks fondly of his time gathering information and inspiration for technological developments at the PETnology Conferences.

Pioneering circular thinking

Schlossnikl says: “We introduced PET bottles for our products in 1996. At that time, refillable glass bottles were falling out of favour. Our options were a classic refillable glass bottle system like the one in Germany, or a deposit system with the plastic from single-use bottles being reused. Even back then, we firmly believed that if we opted for single-use, we would have to close the loop.” 

The date is significant — while the concept of a loop is commonplace now, it didn’t yet play a major role back then. The PET recycling industry was for the most part still focused on the fibres and filaments business. The term ”bottle-to-bottle recycling” had not even been invented. But that’s exactly what Vöslauer was doing with PET: introducing the material into a loop. The first step was selling the Vöslauer PET bottle in a crate of nine, introduced in 2003. Over 95% of the bottles were returned to Vöslauer. According to Schlossnikl, they had a strong team that worked well together from the beginning, including the German company Texplast. He adds, “We owe a lot to Fritz Kehlert. It was under his leadership that Texplast processed the first Vöslauer bottles into regranulate. In the early days we already had over 1,000 tonnes of PET bales per year. That was quite something.” The company’s second partner was ALPLA: “Werner Rosenberger from the Steinabrückl facility was always particularly receptive and took on the challenge of reutilising our own used material for bottle production.” The conditions in those early days were very different. “There was no designated permit back then, so Vöslauer had to apply for a special one — and we got it. We started with a proportion of 30% recycled material, which we then increased to 50%. We’re now filling our first products into bottles made from 100% recycled material.” And this recycled material earned its own name at Vöslauer and with the company’s current partners: rePET. “We’re very strongly positioned in terms of logistics, which really boosts our efficiency. We source large quantities of recycled material from the Austrian collection system. The company PET to PET Recycling Österreich is located just 20 km away, and ALPLA’s PET production facility is also close by.” 

Vöslauer’s rePET

/1/  Vöslauer’s sustainability reports are based on the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) guidelines. Specific key figures and indicators are used in accordance with these guidelines. This enables simple comparison of sustainability reports and business activities.

/2/  Vöslauer-Partner für PET-Recycling: PET to PET, ARA, ALPLA

  • PET to PET Recycling Österreich GmbH is a member of the groups Coca-Cola HBC Austria, Radlberger Getränke, Rauch Fruchtsäfte, Spitz and Vöslauer Mineralwasser, and describes itself in its own terms as the only PET recycling facility serving the drinks industry in Austria. It took up operation in August 2007 and recycled more than one billion PET bottles in 2018, corresponding to a total material weight of 24,500 tonnes. This represents an increase of 9% over 2017.
  • ARA was founded in 1993 as a packaging collection and recycling system and is now a driving force within the Austrian recycling economy thanks to its expertise in the field.
  • ALPLA is a leading international manufacturer of packaging systems, bottles and caps. The family-run business uses state-of-the-art technology and innovative solutions to produce rePET preforms, which Vöslauer then reprocesses into bottles.
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