Industry interviews in the lead-up to the K 2022 trade fair “Recyclates must be suitable for upcycling”
Mr. Lackner, how has the circular economy developed from the perspective of your recycling company since K 2019?
At Lindner, we’ve seen a strong upward trend since the last K. In 2019, demand for recyclates was rock bottom given the extremely low oil price, resulting in virgin material being cheaper than recyclate. Today, it’s not primarily about the cheapest raw material, but more about brand-name manufacturers demanding recycled content in their packaging because that’s what society wants. This strong demand for recyclates has given incredible impetus to the market.
We don’t see an end here. On the part of the recyclers themselves, the consolidation the industry has experienced for some time now has led to larger players emerging. These are strongly pushing ahead with the circular economy.
Politicians also want to recyclate quotas. How can these be achieved?
To achieve these higher quotas, two factors must be in place: quality and quantity. This presents the machine manufacturers with the major challenge of supplying technologies that enable better qualities and significantly higher quantities. That is the order of the day. We are currently working on these aspects.
Will this development lead to a decoupling of recyclate prices from crude oil prices?
That has already happened to some extent. In the past, you couldn’t get rid of your recyclate when crude oil was cheap. Dependence on the oil price was the crux of the industry. That’s changing now because society is demanding a circular economy, due to legislators stipulating higher recyclate rates, and because brand owners say that for marketing reasons, they can no longer afford to use 100 percent virgin material. They are therefore very committed to getting the circular economy off the ground. The next step will be mandatory recycled content in products. This would consolidate a decoupling from the price of oil.
What does all this mean for a company like Lindner?
We supply technology for recycling. Our challenge is to develop the technologies to enable higher volumes and better quality. We have to become more efficient and even better in the overall processing of plastic so that we don’t downcycle, as was often the case in the past. The goal must be to get the products back into the same application. In the long term, food packaging must be able to become food packaging again.
Where are the difficulties?
We must succeed in generating single-variety plastic streams. After sorting as purely as possible, the aim is to make the cleaning processes even better and more efficient. Our new hot wash for recycling film or PET is a good example in this regard. All this is necessary to produce a recyclate suitable for higher-value applications – in other words, for upcycling.
Do you also have to work across companies?
We have specialists for the various treatment stages and steps within the recycling process; now the steps need coordinating. We have to manage to form collaborations across the entire reprocessing process. To achieve that goal, we must always keep the entire process in mind, not just the optimization of a single unit. Such collaborations already exist in research projects.
Can you imagine an international loop at some point?
The waste must be processed where it is produced – mainly in industrialized countries. And we in Europe must make sure we recycle the waste we produce ourselves and keep it within a cycle. We are well on the way to achieving this.
If we stopped overseas exports entirely, we could definitely solve a large part of the problem of plastic waste. We can certainly export the recyclate, but not the waste.