The packing material of our time
Today, plastics are used practically everywhere. They can be produced at low cost and their universal formability means that they adapt to each use optimally. As plastics do not biodegrade, recycling them is very important for environmental protection and the conservation of resources. Increases in the raw oil price have made the reuse of plastics as secondary raw materials consistently more lucrative.
From yoghurt cups to the thermal insulation boards on buildings, the use of plastics encompasses nearly all areas. In 2013, about 11.76 million tonnes of plastics were processed in Germany, and in 2015, the quantity reached approx. 12.06 million tonnes. (Source: Plasticseurope) (Source: Umweltbundesamt)
The diverse world of plastics
The following five thermoplastic materials represented 73.9 % of the plastics produced in Germany:
Proportion of plastic types in the processing volume
Strict separation for better reuse
Virtually all shredding processes for appliances yield a mixture of different parts. Ferrous and non-ferrous metals are removed for further treatment and the plastic materials are separated according to type. These different materials must be separated as neatly as possible in view of their reuse. Applying pressure and heat, the particles are transformed into plastic granules as the intended intermediate product. These granules are melted together with added new granules and pressed into shape.
High-quality techniques are used for processing plastics
The technique to be used in the recycling, reuse, and regranulation depends largely on the starting material. As a rule, purer plastics can be recycled quite well and as secondary raw materials, they are much sought after. A model case is the recovery of plastics from discarded electric appliances and many other areas. In Austria, every year approx. 20,000 tonnes of plastic materials are recovered from electric appliances. Here, recycling is significantly more complex than in other areas, because many different plastics are incorporated in these devices. Using the latest in technology, about 40% of plastic materials can be recovered for reuse. Approx. 8,000 tonnes of sorted material correspond to some 1.6 million plastic garden chairs (Source: Elektro Ade). The goal must be to apply high-quality processing techniques, such as bottle-to-bottle recycling. PET bottles are sorted specifically according to their colour, cleaned and used to produce new PET bottles.
Origin of recycled plasticsSource: Elektro Ade
Closed plastic materials cycle
Handling plastic materials has become one of the greatest challenges of the future. Seen on a world-wide level, between 22% and 43% of plastic waste is still landfilled, and between 10 and 20 million tonnes are introduced into seas and oceans, as UNEP reports. This area still holds quite a few potentials for improving the overall situation. According to a study made by PlasticsEurope in 2013, only 26.3% of the total plastic waste was recycled in the entire European Union (Source: World Resources Forum).