Recycling must also financially pay off

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Interview with Patrick Henzler, Sales Director at WEIMA Maschinenbau GmbH

Mr. Henzler, how is the recycling business developing at WEIMA?
Very well actually, because the importance of recycling is increasing, as environmental awareness is increasing, because resources are limited and plastics being a necessity. This means that more and more recyclate has to be used. With our WEIMA shredding machines, we are at the beginning of the recycling chain and make an important contribution. In post-consumer recycling, we have seen a trend of steadily increasing processing volumes over the past few years. We have adapted our machines to enable higher throughputs and still be cost-efficient. WEIMA shredders are also characterised by high accessibility for maintenance purposes and variable drive technologies. With more than 1200 machines delivered annually, we can draw on an exceptional wealth of experience.

How well does the procurement of the plastic waste work?
Procurement starts with the collection of recyclables. Due to the major importance of our export business, we are present in many countries and see very different waste systems at varying development stages. In some cases, these are only rudimentary. Even the waste systems in Europe, including Germany, are not yet at an optimum level however; in addition, even if they have already reached an advanced stage of development, some of the subsequent steps are still underdeveloped.

In which areas are problems still a factor?
In the sortability of materials for example: the possibilities for cost-efficient plastic recycling increase when the material is sorted. If you have laminated multi-layer films with an additional paper or aluminium layer for example, recycling becomes so expensive and complex that it is of no interest to potential processors. But recycling must also be profitable. Technologically, there are many possibilities, and new options are constantly being developed. But if the costs explode, no one will do it, which is one reason why a lot of valuable plastic waste is still simply incinerated in Germany.

How can we do improve upon that?
This is first and foremost a political task; there are still many steps to be taken in this area so that we can achieve a better management of material flows. Unified legislation on the use of food contact recyclates would be one example – that would also be a premise for creating consumer confidence. In Germany, the current situation is that material collection works differently in each administrative district. A lack of standards and a lack of monitoring of material flows lead to fluctuating processing quantities for recycling and thus to an erratic availability of recyclates.

Should product design also be controlled more strictly?
We absolutely need rules and specifications in terms of product design. At the moment, packaging manufacturers still have a completely free rein and can develop packaging that is practically impossible to recycle. A sustainable solution to this problem is the “Design for Recycling” approach for example.

This includes recyclable materials, bright colours for better sortability, mono-materials instead of a mix of materials, better labelling and fastening options – all of which improve recyclability. However, the main motivation for more recycling is currently being created by increasing consumer awareness. The more consumers make it a point to only buy products that are contained within recycled plastic packaging, the higher the recycled content will automatically be.

Are there no technological problems?
We have a wide variety of technological approaches in the recycling sector. Our interest as a company is to further develop our technologies so that we continue to have the best and most efficient solutions in the future. But the most efficient solution is not workable if the management of material flows does not allow for technologies to be used in a truly cost-efficient way. So far, we have only made limited progress within the European Union.

With post-industrial waste, there is mostly varietal purity. Will there be more recycling in this field?
In-house recycling will increase for two reasons: first, it will be necessary to use resources as efficiently as possible in the future in order to become more independent. The Covid pandemic has shown how disastrous supply shortages of raw materials can be for production. People are dependent on the petrochemical industry, its prices for virgin materials, and their availability. Many will want to reduce these dependencies and therefore rely more on recycling their production waste. Secondly, more recycling is done in-house when recyclate is too expensive on the market. For example: a company produces plastic parts for the car industry. The customer now demands a recycled content of 30 per cent. This recyclate costs more on the market than virgin material. As a result, the company is forced to handle the recycling of their production waste themselves. The changed price situation for raw materials is prompting processors to recycle.

 

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