Are recycling technologies the gateway to a better world? The key that opens the complex lock protecting the mountains of waste? During our conversation with Manfred Hackl, CEO and Christoph Wöss, Business Development Manager Application Bottle at EREMA Group GmbH, it becomes clear that the answer to this question is yes. As one piece of the puzzle.
CC: Is there any hope that the plastics industry will solve the world’s recycling problems?
Hackl: Certainly not overnight. The issue is still dominated by emotions. However, I can sense that the tide is turning and discussions are becoming more and more rational. Facts are being listened to and debated. And NGOs are also getting involved. Ultimately, we must ask ourselves what alternatives there are to plastic.
Wöss: A change in mindset is underway. As an industry, we recognise that we need to tackle this issue together and cooperate to find joint solutions. We need to focus on the various benefits of plastic and on gaining public acceptance. Recycling plastic must become second nature. As has long been the case for metal and paper. It’s all about building trust.
CC: Plastic waste and marine litter are perennial issues. Do you see this as an opportunity or a risk for the industry and your company?
H: Good question! As a manufacturer of plastic recycling machines, we have a business model that is heavily affected by the issues of plastic and packaging waste. At the moment, these terms do not cause any offence. However, if the waste builds up and becomes a problem, people would begin to refer to it as “litter”, which, of course, is a term with clearly negative connotations. Our aim is to deal with the waste cleverly and sensibly so that we can avoid producing “litter” by turning recyclable materials into new, reusable raw materials. This means that we see the current challenges as opportunities with great potential. In fact, finding solutions is our mission. I have every confidence that we in the plastics industry can get a handle on these issues.
CC: Do you see yourself as a lone warrior in your value chain?
W: Far from it. At the start of our conversation, Mr Hackl explained how the situation has changed and the industry is now engaging in rational discussions. Something else has changed as well. A few years ago, each industrial sector focused solely on their own areas of expertise; everyone did their job but kept themselves to themselves. There was little interaction between the various parts of the value chain, even between neighbouring industries. Today, people are more open. They show interest in nearby processes, acquire knowledge for their own sectors, share insights into their work and actively participate in discussions.
CC: What exactly does this mean for plastic recycling?
H: The best way to answer this question is to look at the extrusion process. Effective sorting and washing have a positive impact on extrusion and the quality of the recyclate. Ensuring that quality remains consistent over a long period of time requires ongoing dialogue and coordination between the individual processes.
CC: The PET industry has been cooperating like this for a long time. The sector has been able to optimise its work by considering the effects of upstream and downstream processes. For example, lightweighting has become a reality and the industry has reduced its overall energy consumption and its CO2 emissions. Despite this, there is still work to be done in the PET industry.
H: Yes, PET is an exception. Everywhere you go, there are people working in line with PETnology’s motto of “connecting comPETence”. The PET industry has always been the trailblazer. It all began around 20 years ago when plant manufacturers began working more closely with converters and recyclers. This helped pave the way towards today’s PET bottles being relatively easy to recycle. As a result, closed-loop systems have become a reality. The situation is much more difficult in the area of polyolefin. Significantly more players are involved here, meaning that the challenges as well as the potential are much greater.