Bottle-to-bottle recycling at its best

Growth potential included

Back on the road on our Editour through Europe we stopped at the waste management company and plastics recycler RCS Plastic in rural Werne, Germany. Here we met the managing director Mr Alexander Rimmer with whom we talked about his state-of-the-art recycling plant. He gave us his opinion on the current situation of PET recycling and told about his expansion plans with another Erema Vacunite granulation system. Perfectly connected to motorways and major European ports as well as railways, he is investing in a sustainable future.

PETplanet: Mr Rimmer, at what point and why do you recycle plastic at RCS?
Rimmer: The company was founded in 1985 by the brothers Gerhard and Franz-Josef Francke in Werne. They started with the collection and marketing of paper and cardboard and have developed significantly since then. We now employ 170 people at two locations in Werne. In 2011, we started recycling PET bottles into unmixed PET flakes and in 2020 we started producing granulate at our new location.

PETplanet: What types of plastic do you recycle and where do you source your material?
Rimmer: So far, we have recycled disposable PET bottles. The material comes from the German deposit system of retailers. Various machines are used for recycling: The sorting is done by the sorting system of Stadler, the washing part is an own construction of our company and the granulation is done by a Vacunite system of Erema.

PETplanet: What process steps does the material go through?
Rimmer: The material is delivered to us from the deposit system and sorted in the first step by the Stadler sorting plant, where contaminants are sorted out and the PET bottles are divided according to colour. In the next step, the PET bottles pass through the RCS washing facility for cleaning, where CHT detergents are used. For granulation, the PET flakes are sorted by a flake sorter from Unisensor to ensure quality and then go to the Erema Vacunite granulation system and the SSP system from Polymetrix. (See issue 10/2021 PETplanet)

PETplanet: What capacities are currently available to you and are you planning any expansions?
Rimmer: We currently have a granulate capacity of 16,000 t/a. Next February, we will receive a second granulation plant of Erema and will thus be able to increase the capacity to 50,000 t/a.

PETplanet: For which industry do you produce rPET? Who are your customers?
Rimmer: We mainly produce rPET for the food and beverage industry. Our customers are well-known brands in the food and beverage industry.

PETplanet: What do you think is the biggest challenge of PET recycling?
Rimmer: The biggest challenge in PET recycling is societal developments. Here in Germany, we can recycle PET very well because there is a well-developed deposit system. Through the deposit system, the PET bottles do not come into contact with any other substances, the quality of the material is thus ensured. This also ensures that the bottles are recirculated and thus recycled again and again. As a possibility for improvement, I suggest the spread of the deposit system in other countries, so that the collection and recycling of PET bottles can also be promoted throughout Europe. It is worth mentioning that the recycling rate for PET in Germany is over 97%, which is not possible in countries without a deposit system. Another suggestion is, and this is very important to me, a better cooperation and communication between the producers of food packaging and PET bottles with the recyclers, so that new packaging is produced according to the principles of “design for recycling.”

PETplanet: What is your opinion on the EU directives?
Rimmer: We are neutral towards the EU plastic directives. Through the legal requirements for beverage bottle manufacturers, we and other plastic recyclers receive support and more acceptance from the very top.
In addition, the distinction between single-use plastics such as cotton buds, plastic cutlery or drinking straws, which will be completely banned, and single-use plastics such as beverage bottles will raise awareness in society, as not all single-use plastics are the same. PET bottles are ideal for recycling and the associated circular flow, which is not the case with disposable plastics such as cotton buds. Our work is influenced by the fact that the demand for rPET for the food and beverage industry has increased significantly and development potential can be deduced from this.

PETplanet: How do you feel about the statement of the big brands from the beverage and packaging industry to produce their products from 100% rPET by 2025/30?
Rimmer: In general, we find the goals of the big brands exemplary, but there is currently not enough rPET capacity. The Europe-wide structures for collecting PET bottles are lacking. We would currently recommend the production of beverage bottles from recycled material in the range of 50-75% so that there is no shortage of rPET resources and all brands can meet or even exceed the legal requirements. Should the situation in Europe change with regard to the deposit system, we see the use of 100% recycled material in PET bottles as quite realistic in the future.

PETplanet: What is your position on chemical or monomer recycling?
Rimmer: In general, we see chemical recycling as another possibility for recycling, as pyrolysis technology is used to recover a secondary material from the plastics. However, this process tends to focus on plastic waste that can no longer be mechanically recycled for technological, economic and ecological reasons. For example, contaminated plastics, waste fractions from different types of plastics that can no longer be sorted. In the future, it will be important that manufacturers of packaging and PET bottles work together with plastic recyclers so that the packaging is produced in such a way that recycling is economically and ecologically feasible. A combination of mechanical and chemical recycling would be optimal, so that plastics made of different types of plastic can also be recycled. This could significantly increase the recycling rates of plastics and thus contribute to a stronger circular economy. In the case of beverage bottles, on the other hand, mechanical recycling works very well and is also significantly cheaper than chemical recycling.

PETplanet: My final question: Where do you see RCS in ten years? What are your strategies for the company in the field of plastics?
Rimmer: We see a clear development potential in the future, especially in plastics recycling. In the future, we will not only recycle PET bottles, but also by-products such as closures or other types of plastic in general. With regard to the topic of sustainability, we would also like to develop further with photovoltaic systems on roofs and systems that correspond to the latest state of the art. We are also thinking, for example, of alternative drives such as hydrogen-powered trucks.

PETplanet: Thank you so much!

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