Synthetic wood from plastic packaging

Plastic waste from the yellow sack is contained in outdoor play equipment, pasture fences or plant tubs. HAHN Kunststoffe GmbH produces plastic wood from short-lived packaging plastics.

Cheese packaging or yoghurt cups become park benches. The firm Hahn Kunststoffe turns waste into synthetic wood, from which it makes various products – including play equipment and garden furniture. Hahn Kunststoffe GmbH is not a classic recycling company. In 1993, two years after the Packaging Ordinance was introduced in Germany, Ulrich Kossin ventured into the recycling industry and founded the family business in the Hunsrück region. Today, from its base at Frankfurt-Hahn Airport, the company is a leader in the recycling of plastic waste. The pronounced vertical nature of the value chain creation makes Hahn special. For this, the company has been awarded “The Green Angels” recycling prize for medium-sized companies. All steps are carried out on site by the approximately 300 employees themselves. The company processes tons of waste from the Dual Systems of kerbside recycling waste collection, produces the recycling plastic it calls “Hanit” from Dual System yellow sack waste collected from all over Germany, which would otherwise be destined for incineration. “Hanit” is the name the company gives to its artificial wood and it has had this name protected.  170 tons of synthetic wood are produced per day.

“Not all old plastic is the same”

Every year Hahn recycles around 60,000 tonnes of recycled plastic waste, explains Marco Bräuß, one of the company’s two managing directors. Since not all old plastic is alike, there are different plastic mixtures. The mixing ratio depends on the desired product – for example whether the artificial wood is to be used for a bench, a pasture fence, or for playground equipment. Hanit consists of polyolefin blends. The main components of these blends are polyethylene (LDPE/HDPE) and polypropylene (PP). Bräuß explains that the 100% use of these secondary raw materials that have undergone high-grade processing replaces cost-intensive new materials. For example PET bottles, even if they end up in the yellow bag by mistake, are not used for the production of synthetic wood. The waste delivered from the yellow sack is first cleaned and sorted so that only the “right” plastic waste is shredded in the company’s machines, and then dried and sorted until granular material results. This is melted and extruded into the desired shape of the finished part. “We manufacture our machines and the production process technology ourselves,” explains the managing director.

Recycling products for subway in Saudi Arabia

Hanit products are characterised primarily by their resistance to weathering, oils, alkalis, acids and salt water, their resistance to microorganisms, and their stability and break resistance. The recycling products are mechanically easy to process and maintenance-free. Hahn Kunststoffe promises that the greatest advantage of synthetic wood over wood is its longevity – it has a service life lasting at least 20 years. Hanit is also one third lighter than concrete and much cheaper than stainless steel.

All the company’s products bear the Blue Angel eco-label. Posts are the top-selling product – for example for pasture fences or road barriers. The mixed plastic content amounts to more than 50 per cent. They cost more than twice as much as posts made of impregnated wood. “But the plastic doesn’t rot,” says Bräuß. The range of Hanit products is wide. Hahn is currently producing high-voltage cable ducts for the construction of an underground railway in the Saudi capital Riyadh. Normally, these would be made of concrete, explains Breuß, but the recycled plastic alternative is much better suited for the given purpose in Saudi Arabia. In addition to the breaking resistance at high temperatures, the lightness by comparison with the concrete ducts also convinced the customers. The Hunsrück-based company, which has a registered office in England too, also does business with large discounters. They hand in their packaging waste and Hahn produces benches and tables for them.

“As recyclers, we are in favour of reducing packaging, because waste avoidance should be the top priority, and we agree with the politicians on this,” says Bräuß. But he also calls for public tenders to be awarded to companies that produce recycling products. More than 20 years ago, the government’s support measures also brought large quantities of recovered paper onto the market, he argues. The manufacturer is offering to take back the products at the end of their service life. “We make new synthetic wood products again from them” he explains. So the cheese packaging, which turned into a park bench, can thus become an item of playground equipment.

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