The Austrian Chemical Industry Association (FCIO) is looking for concrete approaches to solutions for a functioning plastics recycling economy in joint projects. There are now very positive interim results from one of these research projects for increased recycling of detergent and cleaning agent bottles.
Together with the project partners Henkel, the Reclay Group and the recycling company Hackl, it has been possible to increase the proportion of recycled material in the production of detergent containers made of hard polyethylene (HDPE) to 60 percent. In comparable projects, an average of 25 percent has been the norm to date. The first detergent containers with this high recycled plastic content are to be produced by the summer.
Climate Protection Minister Leonore Gewessler is delighted with the interim results of the project: "As part of the EU's circular economy package, Europe-wide targets have been set for plastic recycling quotas, which call for Austria to roughly double this by 2030. To achieve these, we must collect our plastic waste separately and ensure that the recycled material is reused. This is how we save natural resources."
"The results show that we are on a very good path to a functioning circular economy system. The long-term goal is also to establish a bottle-to-bottle product cycle with complete recycling for polyolefins, as has been the case for PET beverage bottles," says Sylvia Hofinger, managing director of the FCIO.
Complex recycling process
Every year in Austria, around 5,500 tons of detergent and cleaning agent bottles made of HDPE plastic are collected and sent for high-quality sorting. Of these, around 80 percent are suitable for recycling. The challenge in recycling lies in the high quality of the material, which makes the recycling process more complex.
This is because, unlike PET beverage bottles, rigid polyethylene packaging must meet a wider variety of properties. HDPE containers exhibit high durability, protect products from UV radiation, exhibit high chemical product durability, and provide a significant contribution to consumer-friendly use, such as in the design of the shape for a sculpted handle for optimal dispensing. Crucial to increasing recycled content, therefore, are adjustments in the design of the bottles.
"The project has resulted in new specifications for material development that will make it easier to use recyclate in the future. We are on the way to obtaining 60 percent of the raw material in the new production of detergent containers from recyclate. This is a major advance on comparable projects using plastic waste made from polyolefin. With further optimization, even complete new production from recyclate will be possible in the future," says Birgit Rechberger-Krammer, President of Henkel in Austria, confidently.
Securing material flows in the waste process is crucial
However, the technical implementation of circular design in production is only one part in increasing the recycling of plastic containers made of HDPE. A prerequisite for the challenging recycling process is the sufficient availability of high-quality waste.
To achieve this, various requirements must be met during collection, sorting and cleaning in order to obtain recyclates that meet the complex requirements for new production. "In this project, we are therefore first defining criteria in the production and design of packaging to increase the recyclability of containers. Crucial to this will be the sufficient availability of recycled HDPE plastics to enable complete cycles. An important goal is therefore to establish the necessary material flows for polyolefins in HDPE," says Christian Abl, member of the management board of the Reclay Group.