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  • Dear Readers!

    There are some things in life that are unavoidable simply because it is impossible to foresee them. Other things though could have been prevented if those involved had been perhaps a little more mindful and taken that all important look ahead. Would the Titanic have hit the iceberg at full speed, if Captain Smith and his crew had seen the ice before it was too late? Very unlikely. They had received ice warnings but the ocean was calm and everyone was fine on board the ship. The majority of the passengers were in good spirits – right up until the collision happened. We humans are in a pretty similar position in the 21st Century. We have received warnings about the impending effects of climate change and we have been told that supplies of natural resources are already running low – and yet we are still sailing at full speed towards a head-on collision. Despite the fact that the UN recently officially confirmed that the world’s population will have reached 10 billion people by 2050. 10 billion who will all want to live as comfortably as we Europeans already do today with our 22-tonne consumption of raw materials per capita per year. China, for example, currently only consumes 11 tonnes per person per year. We continue, for the most part, to turn a blind eye to the fact that our planet simply does not have enough raw materials for such a scenario and – even if there are sufficient supplies of some materials – it would not be particularly smart to continue to mine and consume them in such large quantities if the problems of climate change are to be overcome. 

    Maybe human nature lies at the root of the problem. Our lives run in a straight line – from when they begin, to when they end. Linear thinking is in our genes so to speak. And this is precisely how we have always developed and made our products since we used the very first axe. From the idea at the beginning, to using the product, all the way through to the final moment when the product is broken and can no longer be used. There is no afterwards. If a sustainable economy is to be created, however, it is high time that this line is transformed into a circle.

    Practicable solutions to solving our supply problems have been around for a long while now. All around the world, people have been carrying out research work to find new technologies and better systems to enable raw materials to be recovered so that they can be reused. Recycling must finally do what its name implies, i.e. create loops so that all raw materials can be returned to production cycles. Economic growth and the consumption of raw materials must become separate from one another. A few major steps must be taken before that is possible though. Firstly, an ecodesign directive needs to be introduced across Europe that not only places importance on energy efficiency (as is the case at the moment) but also on raw material efficiency and the recyclability of products. Secondly, far more money needs to be invested in researching, developing and setting up more and better sorting and recycling facilities to ensure the recovered raw materials are of the highest possible quality. And thirdly, politicians need to create incentives to encourage industrial businesses to use more recycled raw materials in their production processes. Digitalisation and e-mobility, in particular, need huge volumes of raw materials. The most environmentally friendly source – one that also allows us to remain independent – is recycled raw materials.

    Our steamship is still more or less intact but it continues to sail towards a head-on collision with Mother Nature. It is not too late to change course, though, if we reach the right conclusions and take some mindful and far-sighted steps towards more and better recycling. There are plenty of reasons to be optimistic – quite a few of which can be found in this issue. 

    Yours

    Ludger Rethmann

Recycling is vital

In a way, plastic is not much more than hardened crude oil with an incredible range of material properties. It can be soft and flexible or hard and stable; it can be transparent or colourful. And, in the major-ity of cases, plastic is made from crude oil – a finite substance that is not particularly environmentally friendly to mine or process. Which is why the whole idea of recycling plastic is not an ecological luxury but something that is absolutely vital for both the industrial sector and the environment. And not only since China introduced a ban on imports of plastic waste, forcing Europe to rethink the way it should handle this material.

Plastic cannot be endlessly recycled

  • Anyone who recycles plastic knows that this material reacts in a similar way to paper when it is recycled. Just as the paper fibres get shorter each time they are recycled (determining what they can be used for – from high qual-ity printing paper to toilet paper), so, too, do the hydro-carbon chains get shorter with each recycling process. This factor must also be taken into account when deciding what product groups the recycled plastic can be used for: from high quality injection moulded parts for the automo-bile and aviation industries, to components for computers and consumer electronics, all the way through to being the source material for containers, bins and garden equipment. Plastic can be recycled around five times before it returns to what crude oil generally is: fuel for generating energy and heat.

Up to seven lives

  • Which means this black gold effectively has seven lives – from being mined and refined, to being reused, on average, five times as a plastic product, to finally being used as fuel. It is even possible to express how plastic recycling helps to curb climate change in concrete figures. One tonne of recycled plastic cuts carbon emissions by up to 1.6 tonnes.

    Every single tonne of recycled plastic cuts carbon emissions by 1.6t and preserves 2t of crude oil.

    And each tonne that is recycled is not just one tonne less which the industry has to buy as crude oil on the global market – it is also one tonne less of waste plastic in our seas and oceans. These are all excellent arguments for increasing plastics recycling, as REMONDIS has been doing with its company RE Plano for many years now.

The plastics recycling specialists

  • RE Plano has specialised in plastics recycling for 60 years now, supplying customers in over 35 countries around the world. Each year, the company produces around 35,000 tonnes of secondary raw materials, 20,000 tonnes of which are plastic pellets. Besides producing high quality granules, plastic compounds, pellets and ground goods, RE Plano also markets production waste which it is unable to recycle in its own facilities. Moreover, REMONDIS PET Recycling GmbH operates the most modern PET bottle recycling plant in Europe. It played a major role in developing a collection and reverse deposit scheme in Germany. Huge counting centres provide data-protected services for manufacturers and retailers.

Plastics recycling – what needs to be done?

  • What are the opportunities for Europe now that China has banned imports?

    • Improving the separate collection schemes for household & commercial waste – also by using educational measures
    • Increasing investments in state-of-the-art sorting & recycling technology
    • Introducing an obligatory EU-wide Ecodesign Directive that includes material standards
    • Introducing a raw material efficiency and recycling label as an environmental traffic light label for consumers
    • ng incentive schemes to encourage the industrial sector to use recycled plastic for manufacturing new products

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