Düsseldorf, Germany — The IK Industrievereinigung Kunststoffverpackungen e.V. trade association for German plastics packaging producers and two member companies see work ahead for the group's "ambitious recycling targets for 2025."
In an online panel discussion, Jürgen Bruder, who served as IK's main managing director until Dec. 1, said IK strongly supported the new German packaging law, which calls for doubling the amount of recycled material in packaging and improving designs to make it easier to recycle items after use.
"If you wish to increase recyclate use, design for recycling is a way to achieve it, if not the only way," Bruder said. "If you create more recyclate, it has to be used sensibly. We strongly welcome the packet of measures."
The EU plastics strategy similarly sets quantitative recyclate targets and stresses cooperation throughout the value chain to achieve a more extensive circular economy for plastics packaging.
Bruder denied the plastics industry only responds when quotas and bans threaten. "Prohibition is not the right way to reduce littering, but [instead,] voluntary measures. IK has supported the packaging law for years and is one of four founding trade associations for the packaging register, the aims of which include further development of German private collection and recycling systems and minimum standards in design for recycling," Bruder said.
"We were already well ahead when the EU published in May its draft directive on certain single-use products," Bruder stated. "But IK has a differential approach on, for example, recognition marking of packaging, explanations to customers or Europewide PET bottle collection.
"We are already half the way to a circular economy," IK Circular Economy Manager Isabell Schmidt added.
Nearly 52 percent of plastics packaging was already being recycled in 2017, and 48 percent used via incineration to recover energy as electricity and steam. This compares with 1991, when 3.1 percent was recycled and 96.9 percent went to landfill or was incinerated without energy recovery.
IK aims to have 1 million metric tons of recyclate and renewable materials in plastics packaging by 2025, compared with 400,000 tonnes today, by improvements in sorting technology and ensuring 90 percent of used plastics packaging waste is in recyclable quality or multitrip-capable. Some packaging companies already say they have reached 100 percent. Schmidt admitted imported packaging affects feasibility, as does ultrathin barrier packaging, where increasing thickness to ease recycling only increases the amount of waste.
Achim Grefenstein, R&D manager at Vienna-based Constantia Flexibles Group GmbH, the world's fourth-largest flexible packaging producer, said the amount of challenging thin barrier film packaging accounts only for 300,000 tonnes out of several million tonnes of film packaging.
"We must stay with laminated films, but are working on making the different layer materials more compatible with each other. Pressure on this came first from India, where prohibition of multilayer film packaging was being considered. This was the incentive to develop our EcoLam product, then to build a new production plant for it in India," Grefenstein said.