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Fig 1: Material source

Packaging To Packaging

rPET only from bottles? - Learning by doing. Showing that it works.


A meeting with Markus Neudorfer PET Manufacturing GmbH Kenneth Boldog Boldog Consulting e.U. Jürgen Priesters TOMRA Sorting GmbH

CRecycling, sustainability, circular economy. A rethink is beginning not only in society but also among packaging producers. They are groaning under high rPET prices and a lack of availability, and this no longer only applies to PET.

Can a new rPET resource be obtained from plastic waste other than PET beverage bottles with a holistic approach? One that can be used for nonfood and even food? Thinking “outside the bottle,” so to speak. Packaging-to-packaging would have various effects on the circular economy - and availability.

A cooperation team with locations in Austria and Germany is tackling it - and showing that it can be done.

 

What is the goal?

The initiative aims to establish a PET recycling loop from non-beverage packaging for non-food and – in the long-term - food applications.

 

Who cares?

“Personal commitment plays a decisive role - and the commitment of like-minded people,” says Kenneth Boldog (Boldog Consulting, Sattledt, Austria) when we met him and his partners at the pilot plant in Lahnstein*. He emphasizes “personal” and thus describes his motivation to take the initiative. Together with Markus Neudorfer (PET MAN - PET MANUFACTURING GmbH, Frankenburg a. H., Austria) and Jürgen Priesters (TOMRA Sorting, Mülheim-Kärlich, Germany), he got the project off the ground (see facts & figures page 56).

Boldog, until the end of 2019 Director Circular Economy at Greiner Packaging, reports that “the whole story” started just over two years ago. He calls Markus Neudorfer, Managing Director at PETMAN - PET Manufacturing, an ally, an “rPET soulmate” who, like him, was eager to take on the challenges - namely to produce blister/display packaging for brand owners or even packaging for food contact from rPET.

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''Personal commitment plays a decisive role - and the commitment of like-minded people'' - Kenneth Boldog

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It took more recycling personalities and experts to achieve the set goal. Boldog had long been acquainted with Jürgen Priesters, Business Development Director at TOMRA Sorting Recycling. He put him in touch with Markus Neudorfer, and since the two quickly hit it off, it was easy to get Priesters on board with his expertise, the TOMRA products and test centers. They wanted to implement this idea together. Neudorfer: “For a project like this, you simply need the innovation drivers in their fields of expertise.”

 

What are the conditions? And what are the hurdles?

The collective intention of the recycling optimizers is to accelerate the transition to a circular economy. The task here is to define new circular economy models for plastic packaging. The requirements from politics do not form a rigid framework for this. On the contrary, national packaging regulations and framework conditions are constantly being adapted, and there is only one direction to go: higher recycling rates and increasing levies for placing packaging on the market. The worse the recyclability, the higher the fee.

The EU directive on single-use plastics requires a 77% separate collection target for plastic bottles by 2025 – increasing to 90% by 2029 and incorporating 25% of recycled plastic in PET beverage bottles from 2025, and 30% in all plastic beverage bottles from 2030. Given the current collection performance across the EU, it currently seems unlikely that all EU member states will meet the EU collection targets. Thus, a tremendous effort is needed to be able to meet the collection and recycling rate targets set in the EU Single-Use Plastics Directive and to create a closed-loop recycling system that guarantees that the material is returned, recycled and made into new packaging. Can this even be achieved with the existing options and technologies?

According to Boldog, the team is focusing on new, complementary pathways and is making two assumptions: First, only mechanically recycled PET will be used for food contact packaging in the next ten years; other recycled plastics will not be allowed. Secondly, the share of recycled PET waste from household-related waste is still low.

What equipment is the team working with?

To prepare the whole process, various waste fractions of non-beverage PET were first sifted and tested, processed into flakes by several suppliers and converted into 100% rPET films in test productions under industrial conditions. These films and the packaging produced from them were regularly tested by external laboratories for quality properties and processing characteristics.

In flake processing, the washing system plays a significant role. Boldog: “The flake material we received back after test runs at different locations showed clear differences in quality. The highest degree of flake purity was achieved by the plant we work on here at Zimmermann in Lahnstein.”

TOMRA sorting technology + Krones washing system: This is how the pilot plant is currently set up in Lahnstein on the premises of Zimmermann Recycling und Transporte GmbH. The flakes produced there are then processed into highly transparent films at PET MAN on an integrated recycling and extrusion line from Starlinger viscotec.

What are the results?

Neudorfer: “The outcome made us confident that this can work.” According to him, the produced recycled material was successfully used in the integrated production process from flake to film; all quality criteria and optical characteristics were met better than expected.

High-quality material as a reproducible product – that was the prerequisite for getting real users, i.e. an international manufacturer of branded goods, on board as a customer/partner. In the meantime, the first packaging made from this recovered material has already been produced for international brand manufacturers in their production process. Neudorfer: “We were able to more than fully meet their high quality requirements with regard to the processing and appearance of the final packaging.”.

 

Is everything already perfect?

“That would be nice,” says Neudorfer. Many groups are involved in the cycle of material flows through to the technical process of recycling itself - whether mechanical, chemical, or enzymatic - and they all have their own interests and wishes. “The more flexible the demands, the more successful circular economy can be established.”

There is still a lot of basic work to be done. From the recycling optimizers’ point of view, it would help a lot if all parties involved were willing to make concessions and accept trade-offs. After all, it is about nothing less than saving CO2, conserving resources and reducing the consumption of primary resources. Products made from recycled material simply do not have the same properties as those made from virgin material. And they are expensive to produce, which is reflected in the price.

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''The more flexible the demands, the more successful circular economy can be established.'' - Markus Neudorfer 

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The automotive industry, for example, is struggling with the image of using very little recycled material. If appropriate paths are now taken, producers expect that the new solutions will not be more expensive - and that the quality will remain identical. Brands still find it difficult when recycled material leads to deviations from the standard. Or: Do film packaging have to be free of colour nuances? For example, when it comes to potting soil or compost.

 

Are there wishes for politics and society?

The team agrees that the legal requirements are not conclusive in every respect. A review of individual specifications and fine-tuning could help here.

An example is a waste disposal company that resells its unsorted plastic goods and receives 100% quota credit. If, however, the same waste disposal company sorts the goods and realises 30% scrap, then only 70% quota is recognised.

How about rethinking sorting to make it even easier to keep recyclables in the application-based cycle? For example, with a sorting plant before incineration that separates residual waste and plastics. Saving plastics for the cycle. Right in front of the furnace door, at the very last moment, so to speak. A path to the future that everyone agrees is worthwhile.

This approach would take the responsibility away from consumers and their “green conscience”. Especially if it were to turn out that despite the separate packaging collection in yellow bags and bins, a large proportion of plastic still ends up in residual waste and thus in incineration.

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FACTS & FIGURES COOPERATION PARTNERS

Idea generator and coordinator Boldog Consulting e.U.

Kenneth Boldog

Plastic waste and flake sorting Tomra Sorting GmbH

Jürgen Priesters

Washing machine for flakes Krones AG

Timm Kirchhoff

Recycling and sorting Zimmermann Recycling und Transporte GmbH

Ralf Zimmermann

Integrated recycling and film extrusion line Starlinger viscotec

Herbert Hofbauer

Film production PET Manufacturing GmbH

Markus Neudorfer

Laboratory analyses TCKT - Transfercenter für Kunststofftechnik

Dr. Christoph Burgstaller

Test runs packaging production

Internationaler brand manufacturers

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What‘s next?

For several years, PET-MAN and Boldog Consulting have been working with partners to prove that recycling PET packaging from the yellow bag, yellow bin or similar household waste streams is possible - thus recycling in the spirit of sustainability instead of incineration. And of course, the team sees further levers to optimise their new packaging-to-packaging rPET materials - which they call p2p-r-PET:

  • Find suitable plastic packaging waste fractions with a focus on r-PET that meet the requirements in terms of composition and quality
  • Develop state-of-the-art plastic sorting equipment to sort PET trays and PET bottles highly efficiently to maximise yields
  • Optimize flake washing systems that can also process flakes with lower weight, smaller average flake sizes and higher dust content with a high yield
  • Design flake sorting plants that guarantee 99.99-% “purity” of r-PET flakes
  • Develop recycling systems with a super-clean process and fully integrated film extrusion system that can process the new flake quality and meet the requirements of the branded goods industry, e.g. with regard to maximum transparency
  • Meet the machinability of the rPET films on the thermoforming systems. This makes it necessary to define new quality requirements - from the waste to the finished packaging through the individual process steps.
  • Ensure stable manufacturing processes of the rPET films on the thermoforming lines. This makes it necessary to define new quality requirements - starting with the waste, through the individual process steps to the final packaging.

 

Conclusion

What succeeds with the bottle-2-bottle PET cycle can also work with PET packaging that has not served as beverage bottles. The cooperation team has set itself the goal of establishing a packagingto-packaging-rPET cycle focusing on sorting, processing and recycling plastic packaging waste. Thus, PET packaging other than beverage bottles should also be sorted and recycled from the yellow bag, the yellow bin or similar household-related waste streams in the future. This will significantly increase the share of recycled PET from household waste streams - and much more PET will remain in the cycle.

www.tomra.com  www.petman.com

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