Recyclate is a Coveted Scarce Commodity

The German Packaging Institute e. V. (dvi) hosted the Digital Packaging Days on December 2 and 3, 2021. Leading representatives from business, research, and start-ups reported on the first day about current topics concerning circular economy and recyclate.

This year, the Dresden Packaging Conference again presented itself in its virtual form – as the Digital Packaging Days. „We are making a virtue out of necessity,“ said dvi Managing Director Winfried Batzke. The program included short presentations by experts, and participants were able to contact each other and expand their network via a matchmaking tool.

Circular economy and recycling

The virtual format made it possible for Christian Schiller, founder and managing director of cirplus GmbH to join in from Finland, to give his presentation on „How available are recyclates?“ The Hamburg-based software developer was in Helsinki at the same time for a congress. The answer from the north was sobering: currently, recyclates were in short supply. And that was what his company has to contend with, because Cirplus is a digital procurement platform for recyclates. Among other things, the company mediates between distributors of branded goods, product suppliers and the recycling industry. „Eight out of ten suppliers are sold out for up to three months,“ Schiller reported. Because his company was a start-up, Schiller added, he did not claim to make representative statements. Since the middle of the year, more customers had come forward seeking HDPE packaging. While the supply-to-demand ratio was 80:20 in January, it was 35:65 in November 2021.

The trade and use of recyclates was a key approach to reducing the storage of plastic in the environment and production-related CO2 emissions, he said. However, many companies that need plastic to manufacture their products use virgin materials. The reason for this: the use of recyclates is more expensive and there is a lack of standards, traceable material flows, and reliability with regard to quality. This problem is to be solved by establishing a digital global marketplace for recyclates and plastic waste. Cirplus, in cooperation with DIN e.V., sets standards for recycled plastic and creates transparency regarding quantity, quality and price. This reduces transaction costs and thus provides an economic incentive for the use of recyclates.

Michael Düsener, Head of Purchase of COMPO, gave an overview of the experience with the use of recyclates for packaging. COMPO is a leading supplier of garden and plant products. The company used sustainable packaging at a very early stage because it worked with dual systems, Düsener said. Packaging for potting soil, for example, consisted of 60 or 80 percent recycled plastic. With such flexible packaging, he said, material procurement was more difficult. The Münster-based company received the dvi’s German Sustainability Award in 2021 for its potting soil packaging. In the „Eco Balance“ product series, not only is the packaging produced in a purely sustainable manner, but the raw materials and products are also ecological. A visible sign of the product is the absence of color on the packaging.

Düsener also spoke of currently poor recyclable availability. If, in the future, companies in the food, cosmetics, or pharmaceutical industries also made greater use of recyclates, and there was less virgin plastic in circulation, then the quantity and quality of recyclate could suffer.

The „Pope of recycling technology in Germany“, as Batzke calls him, Dr. Joachim Christiani, Managing Director of the cyclos-http institute, put recycling processes to the test. Design for recycling was becoming more important, but the other process participants also had to „move,“ Christiani said. „The recycler must also adapt to the state of the art“ instead of, for example, demanding wash-off labels in cold washes to enable more sustainable processes. When asked by a tube manufacturer what he thought of digital watermarks such as Holy Grail, the expert said, „It’s very hopeful. It’s not the only way and it’s not going to be the solution, but it’s going to help us with a lot of issues.“ In the future, such systems would come more if retailers wanted them, he said.