Almost 80 million tons of plastic waste accumulate worldwide, and currently, only about 10% of the resources used in the production of plastics are recovered through recycling.
The remaining 90% is incinerated, dumped or enter the environment uncontrolled.
“We face a huge challenge here, which we need to solve in a short time,” said Dr. Jörg-Peter Langhammer, head of Global PSR + Sustainability at Siegwerk.
In Europe, the recycling rate for plastic packaging was 41.9% in 2017 and is expected to increase to 50% by 2025 according to an EU resolution.
“Plastic recycling is such a complex topic, that, in fact, it cannot be solved by one industry player or one sector of industry alone,” said Klaus Wohnig, spokesman of the Board of APK AG. “Yes, the current discussion, also in the public, is primarily focused on the challenges of how the industry can establish a sustainable circular economy for plastics in the shortest time possible.”
Polyolefins, a collective term for the kinds of plastic that include polyethylene (PE) and polypropylene (PP), are the most commonly used raw materials in the packaging sector and, due to their versatility, are used for a number of different applications, including: cling wrap, carrier bags, bottles, food packaging, etc.
Because the recycling rate for products made out of polyolefins was below 40% in Europe in 2017, the gap in achieving the higher 50% recycling rate for plastic packaging by the year 2025 is becoming more apparent.
“This means the industry must urgently address solutions for the recycling of polyolefins,” Langhammer said. "The main challenge is to manufacture recyclates to a sufficient level of quality allowing them to be reused for the production of high-quality packaging."
The majority of recyclates are not yet suitable for use in packaging and are thus removed from the packaging cycle.
Printing inks play a key role in the manufacture of plastic packaging. They are not only crucial for the appearance and functionality of the packaging but also its recyclability.
“Printing inks in particular, but also pigments, and the organic residues from post-consumer waste represent a challenge when it comes to manufacturing a reusable recyclate that is as versatile as possible,” Wohnig said.
With Newcycling, APK has developed a solvent process that dissolves and cleans the polymer, meaning that polymers can be separated selectively in mixed plastic waste. The result is sorted granulate that is like new.
“Sustainability means progress to us,” Langhammer said. Siegwerk is already pursuing different approaches for removing printing ink (de-inking) in various recycling processes to improve recycling quality.
“To do so, we must understand the possibilities of recycling and be ready to take new approaches to increase recyclability. This makes the collaboration with APK extremely valuable to us,” Langhammer said.
With this collaboration, both companies see the possibility to jointly meet the challenges in plastic recycling, to make plastic packaging more circular and consequently to perfect it for a sustainable future.
“When we achieve that, people will once again discuss the positive qualities of plastic packaging, which comes off quite badly in today's discussions about plastic packaging, unfortunately,” Wohnig said.