How a circular economy approach can help protect the environment for future generations
Used PET bottles can play an important role in addressing the environmental impact of plastic
Lightweight and inexpensive, plastic is one of the world's most used materials, but its extreme durability means that effective end-of-life management is critical. High quality recycling is therefore an indispensable solution for processing plastic waste.
Recycling considerably benefits the environment, as new goods are replaced by recycled goods. It reduces demand for raw resources, requires less energy for processing, and reduces the quantity of plastic in the landfill.
PET is the most recycled plastic because of its multiple advantages over other types of plastic. It is a very inert polymer, which makes PET packaging ideal for storing food, as it has virtually no interaction with the contents. It has the property of creating a barrier for oxygen and water and can be easily formed, and is highly resistant and very lightweight. Also, it can be used to produce transparent bottles, which is not possible with PE or PP.
PET recycling - a growing industry
In an industrialized affluent society, we rely on plastic. However, recycling must increase significantly. Through effective and high-quality recycling, the world can move towards a circular economy approach, thus protecting nature and the environment for future generations. Recycling rates are increasing as a result of growing public awareness and greater effectiveness in recycling operations. In response to this, STADLER has planned and built more than 20 sorting plants for mixed plastic bottles across the world, of which more than 10 exclusively dedicated to PET.
Returning PET into the production cycle: the recycling process
The used PET bottles are collected and delivered to the recycling plant, where labels and caps are removed. The bottles are sorted by color and shredded. The material is washed, dried and decontaminated, then melted at 270oC and granulated. The resulting product, called "regranulate", is mixed with new granulated and melted, then fed into injection moulding machines to produce "preforms" for new PET bottles. The preforms are transported to the filling plant, where they are heated and blown into PET bottles. Once cleaned and labelled, the bottles are ready for refilling and sale. The circle is closed as they begin a new life.
Environmental benefits of PET recycling
Recycling reduces the environmental impact of the PET industry in different ways. The first advantage is the reduction in the use of raw materials: new bottle preforms can be made with approximately 35 percent regranulate, with a consequent saving of the crude oil that would have been used to produce new granulate. In addition, recycling plastic requires 88 percent less energy than producing plastics from new raw materials.
The PET industry is also optimizing transport by blowing the preforms into bottles at the filling plant, dramatically reducing the number of truck trips from the recycling plant: one truck can transport 700,000 preforms but only 15,000 finished PET bottles. The result is a significant cut in fuel use and emissions.
The importance of professional sorting systems for effective recycling
For recycling to fulfill its role in addressing the plastic waste issue in the PET industry, it needs efficient processes and high-quality end-products that can compete with virgin materials on the market.
Recycling management company RCS Rohstoffverwertung GmbH, based in Werne, Germany, has first-hand experience of STADLER's expertise. Alexander Rimmer, Joint-CEO of RCS, says: "STADLER offered us the complete package, from project planning to the construction of the modernization of the entire plant, managed and implemented by their staff. We particularly appreciated their technical know-how and the support during the entire project. Their advice was flawless and they offered us great technical experts who advised not only on the technology and processes, but also on the implementation possibilities specifically adapted to our technical requirements with good solutions to problems."
Having seen how PET bottle manufacturers had changed the packaging, increasingly using "full-body" sleeves, it identified a new need: removing the label before sorting. To address this, it developed a new Label Remover, which was included in the RCS project at the beginning of the line to the great satisfaction of Alexander Rimmer: "With the STADLER Label Remover the labels are stripped off and the PET bottles are less damaged than with other manufacturers. As a result, we can register less fine abrasion."
Closing the recycling circle
Used PET bottles can be a valuable resource for the packaging sector and other industries, and can play an important role in addressing the environmental impact of plastic. However, it remains underused in many areas. STADLER has seen an opportunity to close the recycling circle and has partnered with KRONES, a well-established name in the food and beverage industries. The two partners aim to harness the advantages of plastics recycling for customers around the world to benefit customers as simply and profitably as possible. "We want to provide our customers with the highest quality material output in the industry," explains Willi Stadler, CEO of STADLER.
Together, STADLER and KRONES will offer a complete package, from sorting through to the washing process, all the way to the creation of a new plastic product.
The partnership not only aims to offer customers the two partners' tried-and-tested solutions as complete single-sourced turnkey plants, but also develop jointly new solutions, processes and technologies for the sorting and treatment of waste. By combining their expertise and technologies, KRONES and STADLER expect to generate significant momentum for recycling technology and the associated circular economy.