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07-09-2023 | Production + Production Technology | In the Spotlight | Article

Industry Makes Proposals for Plastics Circular Economy

Author: Thomas Siebel

3 min reading time

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The 12 points of the mission statement presented by BDE, Plastics Europe Deutschland and VCI cover, among other things, product design, chemical recycling and bioplastics. Mechanical recycling should always have priority.

Germany has an above-average consumption of raw materials and at the same time has a highly developed recycling industry. It has not yet been possible to dovetail the two satisfactorily. Today, raw material flows in the economy are still largely organized in a linear fashion. Just 13 % of the raw materials consumed in Germany come from recycling.

Changing this is one of the goals of the National Recycling Strategy (NKWS), which the German government is currently developing. In doing so, it is also relying on expertise and proposals from the sectors involved, including vehicles and batteries, buildings and metals.

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Stakeholders from the plastics industry have now heeded the call of the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Nuclear Safety and Consumer Protection (BMUV). In a joint mission statement, the Federal Association of the German Waste Management, Water and Recycling Industry (BDE), Plastics Europe Deutschland and the German Chemical Industry Association (VCI) have presented a 12-point action plan to get the plastics recycling industry on track. In addition to a commitment to prioritize mechanical recycling, the associations also call for new framework conditions for chemical recycling, among other things.

The associations propose the following measures in detail:

  1. Circular product designs: Closed-loop and mechanical recyclability should already be taken into account in the product design. In addition, as little material as possible should be used and material complexity should be kept low. Products should be designed for durability, reparability and reuse
  2. Further developing Germany as a recycling location: Mechanical recycling, which is always given priority, should be supplemented by solvent-based recycling and chemical recycling in order to keep more material - which today is often thermally recycled - in the cycle. This would require corresponding investments as well as innovation-promoting framework conditions with appropriate regulation. In the area of packaging, the existing quotas for recycling should be increased and flanked by quotas for chemical recycling. The latter should be calculated using mass-balancing approaches in order to stimulate investments.
  3. Communicate chemical recycling differently: Chemical recycling is still not widespread today due to high energy prices and investment costs. In addition, the chemically extracted raw materials are further processed in large-scale industrial chemical plants. Therefore, it should first be communicated to consumers that fossil raw materials are saved through chemical recycling. On the other hand, product-related recyclate use through chemical recycling should not be given priority.
  4. Replace fossil raw materials: CO2 captured by CCU and sustainable biomass are to replace fossil raw materials in plastics production. This requires economic and regulatory incentives as well as a suitable legal framework as soon as possible.
  5. The landfilling of plastic waste in the EU should be banned as soon as possible.
  6. The collection and sorting of waste should become more transparent and easier to track through digital means.
  7. Waste shipment to third countries still necessary: The export of waste abroad with demonstrably functioning waste treatment should not be limited. Instead, improved quality assurance and transparency are needed. Plastic waste should be treated where the best recycling is achieved.
  8. Creating an innovation-friendly environment: Environmental protection, business, industry and research should be better coordinated to develop circular business models. Suitable instruments would be real laboratories and regulatory sandboxes.
  9. The industry should develop uniform standards for terminology, interfaces and quality parameters.
  10. Making composite materials more sustainable: Composite materials have been indispensable in some applications to date, but in perspective they should be replaced by performance and recyclable materials on the basis of appropriate research and development work.
  11. Combating plastic discharges into the environment: Pellet losses in production should be prevented, among other things, with the help of centralized separate collection systems. Economies with underdeveloped waste systems should be supported through access to bio-based and compostable plastics and circular economy technologies.
  12. Import secondary raw materials: In addition to importing primary raw materials, Germany should also tap raw material potential from waste. Appropriate raw material cooperations would be particularly suitable with industrial emerging countries in Asia and Africa.
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