LUDWIGSHAFEN, GERMANY - The fate of efforts to recycle mixed plastic waste by turning it into petrochemical feedstocks at BASF AG in Germany is still very much in limbo. Since last year, BASF has been able to turn mixed plastic wastes into a heavy oil at its pilot feedstock recovery plant at its Ludwigshafen complex.
But despite a German law requiring 64 percent of all post-consumer packaging to be recycled beginning this summer, BASF has been unable to get the German recycling bureaucracy to commit sufficient waste to enlarge the project.
``The reality is that landfilling wastes is very expensive, and not an alternative,'' said Karl-Rudolf Kurtz, director of PVC production, and formerly director of the BASF recycling project.
``Mechanical recycling has been shown to be possible, but is not the most efficient way for most household waste, and will probably never be right for the same application as originally. Incineration is unpopular, and difficult to justify. Feedstock recycling is a very good method of making something of value from the waste.''
The pilot plant at BASF, which cost about 40 million deutsche marks ($33 million), makes about 33 million pounds per year of the heavy oil, which then can be used in the petrochemical cracking process.
BASF has informed the Duales System Deutschland, the industry-funded agency that disperses collected plastic wastes, that if BASF were to commercialize the system, it could process about 661 million pounds per year. But DSD has said it would be willing only to provide about 330 million pounds.
The main reason, according to BASF and other industry officials, is that BASF wants the agency to pay to process the waste and to defray the cost of developing the system. Commercializing a plant would cost several hundred million dollars, the company estimated.
According to Kurtz, BASF is seeking about DM325 ($270) per metric ton for reprocessing mixed plastic into feedstock. However, early this year, Kluckner Steel Werke GmbH developed a process for using mixed plastic waste in place of heavy oil in its steel ovens, and is seeking a smaller gate fee.
DSD also has the option of exporting mixed plastics to foreign recyclers who will pay for the waste. The resulting flood of plastics has driven down prices for baled plastics, hurting collection programs outside Germany.
``I'm afraid that the new law, like most of the others, reflects the efforts of politicians to satisfy their constituents, and favors mechanical recycling over other forms such as feedstock recovery,'' Kurtz said. ``I'm afraid that, as with many laws, we will have to do some nonsense in order for people to see that things won't work.''
Kurtz said no decision has been made as to what to do with the pilot feedstock reclamation facility, or on any plans to build a larger commercial plant.