We recognised recycling as an emergent economic sector with positive effects for the environment and the future of our industry before it became a widely discussed topic, as borne out by our activities in Mexico which started in 2002 and our acquisition of PET Recycling Team in Austria in 2010, followed by the new ALPLA building for PET Recycling Team in Poland in 2012. Recycling gives used plastic packaging value. This then allows for investments in collection systems, sustainably closes loops and heavily promotes the ongoing development of recycling technologies.
The circular economy has been an important part of our sustainability strategy for many years. ALPLA will always champion a closed loop for bottles as a recyclable material in accordance with the bottle-to-bottle principle. Our aim is to produce new bottles from used bottles. Downcycling should be avoided wherever possible, even though this is sometimes necessary in order to meet a high recycling quota.
Excellent environmental footprint
Recycled plastics are high-quality materials and represent an excellent alternative to virgin materials. Their use conserves fossil resources and reduces carbon emissions – according to a life cycle assessment performed by c7-consult in 2020, the PET regrind material from post-consumer drinks bottles which is recycled at our plants in Austria and Poland causes just a tenth of the greenhouse gas emissions of virgin materials. One kilogram of recycled PET (rPET) has an environmental footprint of just approximately 0.21 kg CO2 equivalent, in comparison to 2.19 kg CO2 equivalent for virgin materials (PlasticsEurope, 2017).
Own PET recycling plants
ALPLA operates a number of its own recycling plants. It has the wholly owned ALPLA subsidiaries PET Recycling Team in Austria and Poland, plants in Mexico, Italy and Spain, joint ventures in Mexico, Germany and Thailand and a partnership in Germany.
Together, these plants make an important contribution to recycling, with input of around 206,000 tonnes of PET and approximately 88,000 tonnes of HDPE. As not all of the materials processed meet the quality standards we require for our ALPLA products, some of them go to other industries to be further processed into, for example, strapping.
We will run all the recycling plants we own entirely on renewable energy.
New recycling plant in Mexico
Construction of a state-of-the-art recycling plant for HDPE in Toluca, Mexico, commenced in autumn 2020, with the plant scheduled to go into operation at the end of 2021. The company will be run as a wholly owned subsidiary of ALPLA and will have an annual capacity of 15,000 tonnes of HDPE regrind material for non-food applications. By making this investment, ALPLA is firstly realising its global objectives in the context of the New Plastics Economy (an initiative of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation). Secondly, the company is staying true to its regional strategy. Our aim is to invest in regions where the demand for recycled materials is not yet that high. This gives used plastic packaging value and sets an example that will promote the circular economy globally too.
By 2022, recycled PET (rPET) will account for 25 per cent of converted PET material. By 2022, recycled HDPE (rHDPE) will account for 10 per cent of converted HDPE material.
In October 2018, ALPLA signed the New Plastics Economy’s Global Commitment. By signing up to this initiative of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, ALPLA has committed to achieving concrete targets by 2025:
- All packaging solutions are to be fully recyclable.
- The volume of processed post-consumer recycled materials is to rise to 25 per cent of total material usage.
- 50 million euros a year will be invested in the expansion of recycling activities up to 2025.
- ALPLA intends to present at least three packaging solutions a year that are particularly lightweight and therefore reduce material consumption.
- All packaging will remain completely free of PVC.
The progress made to date and the status quo of the targets can be found here.
The parameters for plastics recycling have often been challenging in recent years. This has been due to a variety of factors. Among other things, low crude oil prices have continued to put enormous downward pressure on the price of recycled plastics. Demand has significantly increased, not least because of new statutory regulations such as the European Union’s circular economy package. ‘Sustainability has become established as a value and consumer awareness of sustainable packaging solutions is now very pronounced. The use of recycled materials is now no longer merely cost-driven, and is embraced across the board by the end consumers, distributors, brands and legislators,’ says Georg Lässer, Head of Recycling at ALPLA.
Availability of post-consumer material
According to industry estimates, demand for recycled plastics will increase significantly again up to 2030. We are already seeing this trend at our recycling plants. ‘It is becoming increasingly difficult for us to buy sufficient bottle materials of the appropriate quality. Demand has increased significantly since 2017,’ confirms Georg Lässer. The availability of post-consumer materials is therefore becoming a major challenge for the recycling industry. High production volumes of films and packaging films made of rPET are taking up a large proportion of the rPET flakes available in the market. Unlike bottles, these are not yet properly recyclable or are not collected separately and recycled. Unfortunately, plastic packaging collection rates are generally stagnating, including in Europe as the legal decisions and liabilities only come into effect in 2025 or 2029. We believe that measures for educating the end consumers and also waste collection systems need to be further expanded. Recycling standards need to be made uniform legally and in terms of quality, and checks need to be included if recycling is to be made efficient and economical in the long term. Additionally, packaging recyclability should be linked to the costs relating to the distributors’ levy. Only then can higher recycling quotas be achieved.
Recycling other plastics such as HDPE remains significantly more complex and more difficult than is the case for PET, but it is certainly possible, as demonstrated by the acquisition of the Spanish recycling company Suminco. The company processes HDPE bottles from household recyclables collection into rHDPE pellets, which can then be used to produce HDPE bottles in accordance with our customers’ wishes. We have adopted the same principle in Thailand with the joint venture Envicco and with ALPLArecycling in Toluca, Mexico.
We at ALPLA fully back recycling initiatives and are delighted when we are able to realise such projects for our customers. We want to serve as a global role model and satisfy environmentally aware and foresighted companies. Packaging containing post-consumer recycled materials stands as a testament to a functioning circular economy, has value even after consumption, prevents littering and reduces carbon emissions.
If material reuse (collection and recycling) is not possible, used packaging should at least be incinerated. Here, the heating value of plastic waste can be used for district heating or power, for example. Landfilling and, in particular, the thoughtless throwing away of waste are the poorest forms of disposal. We therefore also support collection organisations in, for example, Poland and Mexico in order to help improve waste management.