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REMONDIS Recycling - First Pass Yield

12:29 min Sorting and collectionONE:24

Meeting at RE Plano and interview with Ralf Mandelatz and Dr. Harald Lehmann

First Pass Yield. This requirement is wellknown for all processes. In the packaging industry, the important question is whether we are taking the appropriate first steps towards a circular economy. Do we have the right packaging solutions and designs? If not, how does this affect sorting? To what extent does legislation embrace this principle? To gain an up-to-date insight, we met with Ralf Mandelatz, Managing Director of REMONDIS Recycling, and Dr Harald Lehmann, Branch Manager of RE Plano GmbH in Bochum, at RE Plano’s new sorting facility.


Is it also about regulations, legislation and prospects for mechanical recycling?

Mandelatz: Yes, these things are closely linked. The future of plastic packaging recycling will very much depend on how strict the Single Use Plastics Directive is and how strictly the Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation (PPWR) is implemented. And by the way: Everyone is hoping that the PPWR will be implemented before the European elections in June - and with the targets that can be seen today: not only in terms of the percentage of recycled material, but also that the implementing provisions will be designed in such a way that the specifications can be monitored. If there are no controls, any regulation is a lame duck. We need monitoring mechanisms. There is a lot of discussion about the implementing rules at the moment, and the following questions are still open: What will be documented? How will it be documented and who will have to document? The packaging industry, the bottlers? An important and exciting point of discussion in this context is the mass balance in chemical processes versus mechanical processes. It is unclear what can be documented in the chemical process balance sheet. Mechanical recycling is likely to change: We recyclers will soon be measured by the output we produce, not the input. This is definitely a a tightening up.

Lehmann: Chemical recyclers have a lot of imagination about how to value the pyrolysis oil they produce, which is then fed to the cracker. And we actually have to be careful that mechanical recycling is not at a disadvantage compared to chemical recycling at this point.

Is PET also sorted here?

Lehmann: The system is of course suitable for sorting PET by colour and separating PET monolayer trays from PET multilayer trays. Coloured PET products can be sorted into their colour fractions, such as green, brown and blue, allowing for a complete closed loop to be implemented for these fractions.

I understand that you specialise in optimising sorting for mechanical recycling. Could you share your thoughts on chemical recycling?

Mandelatz: Chemical recycling is a collective term for various complex processes. In the end, the decisive factor is what proportion of monomers and oligomer building blocks can be repolymerized into new plastics and what proportion might end up as a feedstock for gasification fuels in combustion engines. In the latter case, you could save yourself the effort of chemical recycling and simply send the original material stream directly into thermal recycling. A holistic, transparent determination of the environmental balance is useful here to see if scaling up from laboratory tests to industrial plants is sustainable. This is not an easy task and certainly requires the involvement of various stakeholders.

Do you have access to contribute your expertise?

Lehmann: I have already been involved in two standards and am on the advisory board of the Plastics Standards Committee (German: “Fachnormausschusses Kunststoffe”) and the Packaging Standards Committee (German: Fachnormausschusses Verpackungen). In this role, I am also delegated to the European and international committees dealing with mechanical and chemical recycling. Some of the topics come from the European Commission and the industry, with the aim of creating a quality-oriented infrastructure.

What is your approach to this goal?

Lehmann: We describe the processes throughout the entire process up to the quality-oriented infrastructure mentioned above. The specifications resulting from the design-for-recycling principle are incorporated here. This is no easy task, as national issues also need to be taken into account.



The Quality Association for Plastic Products (Qualitätsverband Kunststofferzeugnisse QKE) in Bonn/Germany is committed to the quality of plastic products on the basis of RAL quality assurance. QKE is currently active in the areas of standardisation, quality assurance, energy and resource efficiency, circukar economy and the recycling of PVC products. As a member of the German Institute for Standardisation (Deutsches Institut für Normung DIN), QKE participates in the Advisory Board and Strategy Committee of the Plastics Standards Committee (Fachnormenausschusses Kunststoffe FNK) and is also involved in the Plastics and Environment Committee. At European level, QKE is delegated by DIN to the steering committee of CEN/TC 249 (Technical Committee Plastics) and participates in the WG 11 working group for mechanical and chemical recycling of plastics.



Is it also to establish limits?

Mandelatz: Yes. Our activities are essential, not only for our target group, but also in general - to avoid setting inappropriate limits. We need to know in good time what changes are coming so that we can prepare for them in the best possible way. The interests are very heterogeneous. The chemical industry is now getting involved in recycling. There are ground-breaking decisions to be made,and attempts are being made in committees to strengthen or weaken one area or another.

For a long time, the chemical industry did not focus on recycling. Recycling was considered counterproductive.

Mandelatz: Yes, sure. But 25% of rPET use means 25% of the market for new material is lost. The chemical industry knows this too. And the same now applies to all other types of plastic used in the packaging sector. So we hope that the PPWR will give us planning certainty before the European elections. It is important to us that these regulations are adopted before the European elections, because the new Parliament will probably have a different composition and priorities may shift. Everything would take longer, you would have new contacts, etc. If the PPWR is not adopted before the European elections, it would be particularly detrimental to all those who have already invested, relying on the development of the regulations.

Is there any uncertainty?

Mandelatz: A lot is going on. We are trying to transfer to other countries the model that mechanical recyclers have built up over the years in an exemplary manner, especially in Germany: Increase collection and reduce waste. If this can be achieved, recycling capacities will also grow - for both mechanical and chemical recycling. Optimal chemical recycling processes require mechanical pre-treatment. Almost everyone has now realised that a pyrolysis reactor cannot take in and process everything unsorted. But there is no absolute planning certainty (yet).

Let’s talk about the sorting system here on site. How do you classify the installed size?

Lehmann: Working three shifts from Monday to Friday, we process and sort 30,000 tonnes of HDPE, PP and PET packaging per year, which we then transport to the washing plant in Lünen. Taking an HDPE bottle as an example, the process there is as follows: We sort out a white HDPE bottle, which usually has a PP cap. The bottle passes through a pre-shredding to separate the cap material from the bottle in the next sorting stage and to separate it from the HDPE material stream. This is followed by the hot washing process with swim-sink separation stages. At the flake level, another five sorters perform the final fine sorting - colour and plastic type. Four extrusion lines with a capacity of 30,000 to 35,000 tonnes per year further process the highly pre-sorted material. The regranulate obtained then undergoes thermal post-treatment to remove volatile substances and thus odours from the material.

So it’s all about polyolefins. You operate extrusion and blow moulding lines for recycled film. Why don’t you look at the melting processes for PET?

Mandelatz: We are not going into forward integration with PET because we have had a successful partnership with the Dutch company Morssinkhof Plastics in eastern Germany for many years. The proximity to our partner’s site is also an advantage. Our analyses of the available capacities in the PET market and the consideration of SSP and extrusion showed at the time that it made sense to enter into the cooperation. Morssinkhof purchases our flakes. We also have partnerships with packaging producers who extrude themselves and operate SSP systems upstream of their preform systems. With our structure we have focused on the processing to flake model.

But it’s not as if you’re shying away from the technological challenges? From my point of view, R could - in the long run - serve the market directly with preforms made of rPET.

Mandelatz: We have always argued that extrusion with SSP is a stringent, industrial production step that can certainly be adapted, just as many bottlers now produce their own preforms. We can well imagine that the process of producing regranulate from regrind and then feeding it directly into the packaging machine will also be adopted in the future. Just to take advantage of the energy benefits. We believe that sooner or later the manufacturing industry will take this industrial step. When we think about PET recycling, we see ourselves not only in the cycle for PET bottles, but also in the cycle for PET trays, i.e. in the film sector. We are working hard on this.

What is the background to the intensive work on sheet recycling?

Mandelatz: In the past, sheet producers have relied heavily on the PET bottle stream. Now they are looking for their own material flow. Our drive is to turn the return stream of trays back into a decent product - from tray to tray.

Lehmann: For us, tray recycling is an exciting, complementary segment in the PET sector. A PET tray has to be shredded much more gently than a PET bottle if you want to produce flakes instead of just small pieces. We are now in the home stretch of our tray recycling test series. If the final tests are successful, our next step could be to move into PET regranulating - with trays as the feedstock, not bottles.

What would you like to see in the circular economy? Things that would make your life easier and move the circular economy forward?

Mandelatz: First of all, I would like to see a rapid and rigorous implementation of the Single-Use Plastic Directive and a consistent implementation of the Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation with the corresponding control mechanisms - across Europe. We need a higher collection rate in Europe as soon as possible. This will result from the implementation of the Single-Use Plastics Directive, which will also lead to more deposit systems and therefore more available quantities, which in turn will trigger investments. This setting is also very important for other plastics outside beverage packaging. We need regulation to continue to work consistently towards closedloop systems for many types of packaging. We see opportunities to expand existing collection systems and recycling activities, particularly in Southern and Eastern Europe.

Lehmann: Internationally competitive energy prices are on my wish list. You ask why extrusion and SSP for PET are not integrated. These are energy-intensive processes, and we recyclers in Germany are currently not competitive with our colleagues in Eastern Europe or France, who work with about half the local energy prices. In the long term, this is not good for Germany as a business location or for investment decisions.

Mandelatz: Faster, simpler, less bureaucratic approval procedures and reduced requirements - that would be desirable and very helpful to work faster and more efficiently. It takes too much time and manpower to build a new plant. It is easier and quicker in Eastern and Southern Europe.

Is there anything technical you would like to see solved?

Mandelatz: Absolutely. Even more consistent implementation of the Design for Recycling model, worldwide. And for Germany a steering effect with the plastic tax. At the moment it is more of a fiscal instrument. If the state collects the money, it should also have a steering effect that promotes the circular economy. In our view, simply levying taxes on plastic placed on the market is not the right approach.

Lehmann: In our view, a good example is the UK model, where recycled content is taken into account. In the UK, plastic products with less than 30% recycled content currently cost around £210 per tonne. Obviously, a tax targeted in this way helps to make recycled plastic more competitive with virgin plastic.


''First of all, I would like to see a rapid and rigorous implementation of the Single-Use Plastic Directive and a consistent implementation of the Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation with the corresponding control mechanisms - across Europe.'' - Ralf Mandelatz


Mandelatz: At the beginning of 2022, we acquired the reverse vending business from Diebold Nixdorf, so we already have intelligent reverse vending technology at the point of sale. The idea behind RE DEPOSIT is to know at an early stage what packaging is being thrown into the collection container. This would give us better control over what arrives at our sorting facilities and what needs to be sorted.

Since 1 January, plastic packaging for milk and milk-based drinks has also been subject to a mandatory deposit in Germany. Milk packaging enters the material stream via the collection machines. Does this affect sorting?

Mandelatz: Until then, we had a very pure PET material stream through the deposit system. The introduction of PS, PP or even PET milk packaging presents us with challenges. Yes, we have noticed that many dairies have now switched to PET. These are often transparent bottles. This is positive in itself, but to protect the product, these bottles have a full-body sleeve. This makes optical sorting more difficult. PETG labels are also not helpful in the process. At best, both result in a lower yield. A clear bottle under a sleeve may be lost to the material cycle and end up in other applications, such as fibre. That wouldn’t be ideal, even if we were to give this plastic a second life.

Do the white coloured bottles and those with barrier material also interfere with the sorting process?

Mandelatz: It would be helpful if marketers would declare the packaging design so we could see what the packaging is made of. As it is, we have to do a lot of analysis to find out. If there are transparent multilayer bottles in the fraction that we cannot detect, these bottles fly into the colour fraction. They don’t bother us there, but it’s a shame because the aim is to keep as much as possible in the transparent stream.

How do you determine the quality of your recyclates?

Mandelatz: I would like to explain the complex requirements using PP as an example: The cosmetics and detergents industry prefers to package their products in PP. In cosmetics, we differentiate between packaging for products that stay on the skin longer - creams, for example. These are called “leave-on products”. There are different requirements for this packaging than for packaging for cosmetics that are only in contact with our skin for a few seconds, such as shower gel, known as “rinse off” products. The proportion of permitted substances in the packaging depends on the use of the packaging. We have our recyclates tested for migration in each batch by an external laboratory. Currently only RE Plano carries out this process. This is how we ensure the conformity of our recyclates.

This is a complex process.

Mandelatz: The entire certification process takes about three to six months. This means that the materials are stored until they are approved. Inhouse testing plus testing by external laboratories - this is what we do for smaller customers. It is a fascinating field for us. But there are also - mostly larger - customers who carry out the analyses themselves. Brands don’t just work with a single packaging manufacturer to test the specific packaging with our recycled material. This means that we first send samples to the brand manufacturer, then the samples go to the packaging manufacturers. They analyse them again and do their tests on the packaging. The whole process takes a long time and is not comparable to what we know from the PET sector. This lead time is the investment we have to make in working capital if we want to be listed as a supplier. It’s just as demanding as in the automotive industry.

So sorting is more than just sorting.

Mandelatz: It is important that we know as much as possible about our input material so that we can assess the impact of specific packaging in the material flow on the end product. The more complex this information, the higher the quality of our recycled products.

In the end, are you actually a material manufacturer?

Mandelatz: That is actually very close. The big difference is that when you produce virgin material, you have very homogeneous input material. But we have extremely heterogeneous input material. The heterogeneous input material makes our material production more challenging.

Thank you very much for this interview. 

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