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One of the most modern PET recycling plants in Europe can now be found in the north German city of Hamburg. Located on Wilhelmsburg, an island in the River Elbe, it was commissioned during the first quarter of 2016 and is able to produce up to 20,000 tonnes of flakes from used plastic drinks bottles. The PET flakes can be sent straight on to manufacturers to make new products.
The new PET recycling plant is easily accessible as it is located in Hamburg Harbour
When plastics are recycled for re-use, it is extremely important that the various different kinds of plastic are first separated from each other. All this involves a complex separation and cleaning process. The new PET recycling plant, therefore, primarily comprises three individual sections: the sorting area, the wet grinding mill and a washing area.
Once the compacted bales of disposable PET drinks bottles arrive at the plant, they are taken to the sorting area. The system there automatically sorts the materials, removing the plastic caps, plastic film, loose labels and any other contaminants. Moreover, the bottles are separated into two fractions: one with clear bottles and the other with coloured bottles. To be able to do this work, the plant operates both ballistic separators and optical sorting equipment. The bottles are then ground into flakes in the wet grinding mill. Once this stage has been completed, the flakes are transported to the washing area where they are hot washed and dried and any remaining labels, residual glue, metals and unwanted types of plastic are removed.
The new recycling centre in Hamburg is Rhenus PET Recycling’s third plant.
The flakes of PET produced by this process have a wide range of uses. They are sent as a raw material to manufacturers of plastic film, bottles, non-food packaging, packaging tape and plastic fibres. The other types of plastic removed during the recycling process – such as screening residue, self-adhesive labels and the ground plastic caps can also be re-used once they have undergone further treatment.
The PET recycling activities in Hamburg are part of the portfolio of services offered by Rhenus Recycling GmbH, a subsidiary jointly owned by Rhenus and REMONDIS. This joint venture, which is being run by the two sister companies, founded Rhenus PET Recycling GmbH to pool together and unite its PET bottle recycling expertise under one roof.
The technical planning work for the new recycling plant was also a joint effort between Rhenus and REMONDIS – and this collaboration of minds has proven to be very successful. One of the special features of this plant, for example, is the way the process water from the hot washing stage is treated so it can be re-used, reducing volumes of wastewater to an absolute minimum.
A further feature increasing sustainability at the site is its combined heat and power plant that is able to supply the whole of the facility with additional electricity and heat. The site’s grounds cover a total of two hectares and 12,500m2 of this space have been dedicated to buildings and covered areas for housing the plant’s technology and the large volumes of raw materials and finished products.
The 4,000m2 building used to store incoming materials can hold more than 2,500 tonnes of used plastic bottles
More than 66 billion PET bottles were recycled across Europe in 2014. Recycling rates, therefore, have risen by more than 8% in five years
Around 40 million tonnes of PET bottles are produced around the world every year making them the most popular form of drinks packaging. Over 450,000 tonnes of used PET bottles are collected in Germany alone each year. Which makes it all the more important to set up suitable recycling systems in this sector so that the product life cycles can be fully closed.
“Consumers really like PET bottles. Thanks to our new recycling plant in Hamburg, we are well prepared to meet the complex requirements involved in recycling such materials.”
Ralf Mandelatz, managing director of Rhenus Recycling in Hamburg