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News around the issue of plastic recycling
Dec. 2018
Dear Reader,

Our newsletter took a long break as we had been very busy. mtm became a member of the Borealis Group in 2016. For our customers, this resulted in a few changes: our product portfolio has expanded, our capacities are growing. The contact partners have generally remained the same, as did supply quality and continuity. In the medium run, however, you will notice additional benefits as a result of the close partnership with this large and experienced polyolefin producer, such as an even broader and versatile portfolio and the enhanced quality of our products. Just recently we took a big step in this direction together with Borealis: With an investment of 15 million Euros, we were able to increase our production capacity by around 20,000 tons. Additionally, a lot of effort goes into improving the characteristics of our recyclates that will be implemented no later than during the second quarter of next year.

After China’s import stop, the implementation of the Packaging Act and considering the stretched capacities of waste incineration plants, all European neighbours are watching our country with great interest. What is happening in Germany? Will we as neighbouring countries still be able to make use of German capacities to meet our own targets? Will we be able to pull even with the recycling targets once Germany does actually reach the 70% mark or more (including PET beverage bottles from the deposit system)? Which other German dual systems will disappear from the market after ELS? How helpful is it when the German legislator starts thinking about again amending the Packaging Act at this stage? How well is the plastics value chain cooperating now under pressure from the increased quotas and the public? Will the Germans achieve measurable progress?

A lot of things have evolved and are still evolving at mtm. Learn more in our latest newsletter.

Warm regards
Yours in plastics
Torsten Meyer and Michael Scriba
mtm is on track

5 June marked the great day: We were able to proudly report completion of the announced production facility extension. Together with some invited guests from the region and Alfred Stern, now CEO of Borealis, and other members of the parent group, we celebrated the next development step of our company.

The investment of 15 million Euros enabled mtm plastics and mtm compact to increase their total capacity from 60,000 to 80,000 tons per year. Additionally, we use the invested capital for the further differentiation and quality improvement of our product range. “The market requires high-quality recyclates that are on the same level as new products”, said Alfred Stern. During the unpretentious event he explained his company’s commitment: “Around 8.3 billion tons of plastics have been produced since 1950, of which only 9% were recycled. This must change. We will continue to work on this together with mtm, ensuring further development”, said Alfred Stern, confirming their joint vision. The members of regional administrations and associations among the guests were happy to hear this. One of them, Niels Neu, Chair of the Trade Association of Northern Thuringia, explicitly thanked the CEO for keeping his word. One year before, Alfred Stern, then not yet at the company’s helm but acting as Executive Vice President Polyolefins and as such also responsible for recycling activities, had promised that mtm would be developed further. The fact that this promise has now turned into reality is a clear token of appreciation that is acknowledged in the region with great interest.

Another token of appreciation of the mtm workforce was also expressed by Torsten Meyer, Managing Director of mtm, and Günter Stephan (Borealis) in addition to Alfred Stern during the works council assembly on the same day. They pointed out how the teams had managed to complete the additional capacity extension activities on top of ongoing operations with unique hard-working commitment. Stern, who always strives for a next to zero accident rate, added that this was achieved without any significant accidents or disruptions.

It also became clear that the investment of 15 million Euros will not stand alone, as another 300,000 Euros have already been invested into environmental measures. These funds went specifically into fish ladders in the Wipper River and in the mill moat surrounding the operation’s premises – a measure that was co-sponsored by the Free State of Thuringia. Furthermore, another 2.5 million Euros are earmarked in the short term to extend the capacity of mtm compact in Fürstenwalde. Using 30,000 tons of plastic waste unsuitable for recycling, this facility is currently producing reduction agents under the brand name Compactat® for the steel industry.

Photo: Alfred Stern, Borealis CEO , (li.) and mtm managing director Torsten Meyer (right) at the factory tour

Circularity first

We love plastics as they are indispensable companions in daily life. We cannot imagine life without them, unless you are willing to eventually cause greater damage to the environment in other areas (e.g. food waste). However: Not much has changed in the quantity and quality of plastic recyclates in recent years. This must and will change once the postulated recycling quotas will go up drastically starting from next year with the new Packaging Act. This will force some people, who keep rebutting demands for more recyclability by arguing about footprint, to change their thinking. In future, the design process must focus on circularity first, as recyclability must become the brand core of packaging manufacturers.

With the Packaging Act, the recycling quota will rise from currently 36% of the licensed quantity to initially 58.5% from next year and then to 63% from 2022. By 2025 the quotas will be reviewed. Assuming a simultaneous rise in the licensed quantity, which will be realistic as the Central Packaging Register (Zentrale Stelle Verpackungsregister) is already active, experts estimate that the current recycling quantity may need to double in order to eventually reach 63%. This is not feasible with the input material available today. At present, less than half of the licensed quantity goes into the recycling of reusable material – in relation to the market quantity, this is significantly less. In any case, the increase in licensed quantity will not suffice to achieve a larger or even target-compliant recycling quantity. A study on the increase potential of recycling quantity1) under current conditions found that approximately 100,000 tons of the packaging that can currently not be recycled could be made suitable for recycling through relatively small changes in the design. According to the study, optimisations in collection and sorting hold an added potential of 120,000 tons for recycling. But even if this total of 220,000 tons did actually find its way into the recycling stream, it would still not be enough. To obtain more recyclable material, we would need a fundamental change in the way we think and act across the entire chain, moving towards extensive standardisation, which is exactly what the German Association for Secondary Raw Materials and Disposal (Bundesverband Sekundärrohstoffe und Entsorgung – bvse) promotes2):
  • To achieve better results, dual systems must optimise for better collection and sorting, adapting their license models in such a way that recyclable packaging is tangibly rewarded.
  • The packaging industry should limit itself to the standard polymers PE-LD, PE-HD, PP and PET, use only mono-PET trays and avoid incompatible and inseparable components (PVC, PET, paper, PA, PVDC and EVOH).
  • And last but not least, trade and branded item producers should use packaging that can be emptied to the last drop and easily sorted.

All this will only happen if the fundamental principle of “circularity first” becomes industry standard and is implemented top-down into the design process. This means: the decision-makers will need to be the first to buy in! At present, there are too many obstructionists arguing that the postulated changes will lead to more material consumption. They say that a lot has been achieved in recent years through optimisation to please the environment and the legislator, who made avoidance a top priority in the waste hierarchy. Yet, we say: If all this weight-optimised plastic packaging keeps ending up in the sea and we don’t manage to make significant headway in recycling, we will all lose. Because in that case, packaging will increasingly disappear from the market, either because the legislator will issue more and more bans, or because consumers will no longer want plastic packaging and trade will replace it for other materials.

1) Potentials for increasing the recycling of reusable material in plastic packaging – recycling-compatible design, sorting technology (“Potenziale zur Steigerung der werkstofflichen Verwertung von Kunststoffverpackungen – recyclinggerechtes Design, Sortiertechnik” –Prognos/GVM)
2) Press release by bvse from 01/02/2018: Plastic recyclers ask for extensive standardisation in packaging plastics (“Kunststoffrecycler fordern weitreichende Standardisierung bei Verpackungskunststoffen”)

Food for thought

„Our industry must change its mindset“

Günter Stephan, Head of Circular Economy Solutions, Borealis

At present, the worldwide recycling level of plastics is still very low, which means that we fail to make use of a huge resource. This is both environmentally unwise and economically short-sighted. What’s more, enormous amounts of plastics end up in the oceans as micro and macro particles, turning the good image of this amazing material with all its boundless opportunities more and more into a pariah. This is another reason why we should change our mindset to preserve the uncontested usefulness of plastics. We from Borealis want to act as a pioneer and example to close the cycle for more and more polyolefins together with mtm and our new group member Ecoplast. We are convinced that the circular economy holds enormous opportunities. Already today, the market requires more recyclates than are on offer, particularly high-quality recycling plastics that can be used in new market segments. Here, there is still a lot to do.  Recycling-friendly design – this is one of the major challenges. To assist our partners in the value chain, we have developed Ten Codes of Conduct with mtm on how plastic products can be designed to ensure they are recyclable. Step by step, this will get us closer to our goal of keeping plastics in a cycle to the maximum possible extent.

Yours in plastics
Günter Stephan
Design for Recycling: Ten Codes of Conduct

The recyclability of plastic packaging has – finally! – shifted into the focus of the discussion on how to optimise plastic recycling. Several guidelines and tools provide practical assistance for interested designers. Initiated by the new Packaging Act, the Central Packaging Register (Zentrale Stelle Verpackungsregister) has also dealt with this topic and issued an orientation guide for dual systems to align the license fees according to recyclability. Just recently, mtm in coordination with Borealis has presented “10 Codes of Conduct for Design for Recyclability (DfR)” that predominantly match the postulated application-related standards. Yet, in some details, our codes of conduct focus even more radically on the requirements of recycling. They are available for download on the mtm website.

Over the years, plastic packaging has become increasingly complex. The designers came up with an increasing number of new packaging functions that often make sense. However, in many cases one must be allowed to ask if the changes in packaging are indeed providing the user with any additional benefit. Furthermore, considering those change processes, it would often not matter whether the packaging would be or remain recyclable at the end of its first life. In particular when reducing weight at the expense of recyclability, the primary goal is to reduce the cost. The resource effect due to material savings was a welcome side benefit. This must change now. Design for recycling is not only on the agenda at many conferences but is also increasingly acknowledged as a challenge by trade and manufacturers. And not least in politics: In the Packaging Act that will become effective from the 1st of January 2019 and has unsettled the industry for quite some time, the legislator has ordered the dual systems to create incentives for a more recycling-compatible design in their license fee structure. In other words: packaging that is easily recyclable should be rewarded, and that which is hard to recycle should be taxed. This would require binding criteria defining recyclability. For this purpose, the Central Packaging Register (Zentrale Stelle Verpackungsregister), in charge for monitoring the packaging recycling in terms of the new Packaging Act, has issued an orientation guide, defining minimum standards that must be observed. Already in June next year, the dual systems will be required to report on implementation. Here the key issue will be whether the license fees are indeed tangibly differentiated to ensure that the desired effects are achieved.

Apart from this more or less government-triggered initiative, there are a number of other activities, information and practical support tools to improve the recyclability of packaging. Packaging designers have already been able to verify their product ideas for recyclability for several years. Under www.recyclass.eu, packaging designs can be classified in terms of their recyclability based on a simple multiple choice process. A very similar tool is being developed by the Round Table for Environmentally-Friendly Design (Runder Tisch Eco Design) initiated by the German Industrial Association for Plastic Packaging (Industrievereinigung Kunststoffverpackungen). A resulting guide is currently undergoing testing. Once completed, it will already provide helpful hints for the first phase of brainstorming and an extensive toolbox for practical application. mtm has been involved in the development of both these tools.

More recently, a list of ten helpful codes for recycling-friendly design has been created by mtm together with Borealis in coordination with many other members of the industry. It is aimed at all packaging experts who want to learn more on how their design decisions impact plastic recycling. These “10 Codes of Conduct for Design for Recyclability (DFR)” cover the key issues that are relevant for recycling, such as the material being used, the ability of its residual contents to be emptied completely from packaging, and separability, or the use of pigments, labels and paper for marketing information. All information provided in the codes of conduct is based on the state of the art in Central Europe. Also, for other regions in Europe where used plastic packaging is not yet specifically collected for recycling, the DFR is a basis for establishing adequate collection structures.

The “10 Codes of Conduct” (available only in English) can be downloaded at: www.mtm-plastics.eu.

STOP – „STOP Ocean Plastics“

The joint initiative by Borealis and SYSTEMIQ is entering the next phase. “STOP Ocean Plastics” (STOP) is an initiative to develop circular economy solutions to marine plastic pollution, focused on countries with high leakage of plastics into the ocean. The first city partnership project was launched in Muncar, a city of 120,000 inhabitants in Java, Indonesia. Recently, also the Canadian plastics producer Nova Chemicals has started to support the four million Euro project. Veolia, Sustainable Waste Indonesia and mtm plastics provide technical support.

Project STOP aims at developing solutions to avoid marine plastic pollution especially in countries identified as main polluters. Southeast Asia has been identified as one of those regions where a particularly high quantity of plastic debris is leaked into the ocean. This is why the parties involved in project STOP have chosen Indonesia as a primary focus region. After the first project phase, which included stocktaking, feasibility studies and other preparation activities, was completed, the main sponsor Borealis enabled the kick-off for the city partnership project with Muncar, a major fishing port in East Java, whose surroundings such as harbour, beaches and rivers are particularly badly polluted with plastic waste.

With STOP, the project partners pursue three goals: avoiding plastic emissions into the environment through improved waste collection and separation, promoting plastic recycling and establishing a circular economy for plastics, and finally helping the local communities to reduce the impact of plastic pollution on public health, tourism and fishing. Borealis will continue to sponsor this industry-leading initiative in the future. In the Borealis strategy, measures against marine pollution are a key focus for commitment to society and at the same time are a vital step towards a circular economy.

For more information:  Video

mtm plastics GmbH

A member of the Borealis group

mtm plastics is a leading European plastic recycling company. Together with Borealis as a strong partner, mtm continues to develop its technological leadership, pushing for more recycling and a circular economy.
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