Friedrichshafen, Germany — Recyclers in Europe are keeping watch on how China's ban on imports of waste plastic, and politicians' response to the problem, will impact their business.
Frank Hendrickx, European business manager at polypropylene recycler Ecobat Technologies Ltd., said that while at Fakuma, he has spoken with representatives from various carmakers, including Volkswagen and Daimler. They believe the European Union is getting ready to announce new legislation mandating the use of recycled material in new cars.
"Whether this legislation applies to 10 percent, 15 percent [of total material across a new vehicle], we don't know," he said. "In the automotive industry, there are very stringent specifications and standards. That means there are only very specific pieces coming out of the waste stream that you can recycle and then use to produce parts which meet automotive standards."
Hendrickx estimates that if the EU requires 10 percent of automotive plastics be made up of recycled material, that would require 30 million metric tons of high-grade recycled plastic to achieve this target.
"There is no way the industry can handle something along those lines," he said.
Ecobat recycles batteries and recovers the lead and polypropylene. On the plastics side, it produces Seculene PP, a recycled product described as having the same characteristics as virgin material.
While the wider automotive industry braces for possible new regulatory guidelines, the decision by China to close its doors to imported plastic waste has had little impact on the direction taken by other European recyclers.
For example, recycler APK AG has recently developed a new solvent-based recycling process that preserves polymer chains and results in an improved recyclate. At Fakuma, board member Mike Kaina said the company would be moving ahead with plans to increase its European recycling capacity regardless of the decision made by China.
"Two years ago, other companies were looking at us and saying that this solvent-based technology was not necessary; they believed conventional recycling was enough. But the new technology developed by APK is designed to help worldwide," Kaina said.
He added that the technology has attracted a series of chemical companies interested in partnering with the recycler to help improve process efficiencies and increase percentages of recycled material.
APK now plans to open a second, 30,000-tonne-per-year recycling plant. Would the company have considered doing this if China had not closed its market to plastic waste imports?
"The Chinese decision had no effect on our strategy; it's completely separate," he said.