Total output price index in national currency (Gross data) 2010 = 100 (green circle); Industry production index (Seasonally adjusted data) 2010 = 100 (grey circle); Source: Eurostat, http://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/web/short-term-business-statistics/data/database

Plastics are “miracle” materials, but their many different properties also mean they are used in multiple applications, making recycling more complicated. That was one of the messages Dr. Manica Ulcnik-Krump of Germany’s ALBA Group brought to attendees of the 2015 Plastics Recycling Conference Europe in late October in Madrid. The event was organised by Recycling Today Global Edition pubisher, the Recycling Today Media Group, based in Valley View, Ohio, United States.

Krump said the ALBA Group and its Interseroh subsidiary handle some 600,000 tonnes of plastic scrap each year, adding that the company has made a commitment to “upcycling instead of recycling.” She said, “We strongly believe mechanical recycling is the future [not energy production]. We should try to give [plastic scrap] a second life.”

As part of that commitment, ALBA has invested in reprocessing equipment to produce two trademarked grades of plastic pellets: Procyclene and Recycthene. The grades can be used in injection and blow molding processes and come in a variety of colours.

“You have to go all the way,” Krump urged fellow plastics recyclers considering becoming reprocessors, which can mean finding customers to use the products and then creating products “that can be recycled multiple times.”

Fernando Martinez of Spain’s PET Compania Para Su Reciclado gave an overview of the PET (polyethylene terephthalate) recycling situation in Spain.

He said one of the challenges for his company is the increase in PET bottles with barriers that contain other polymers. “There are more and more of these, and it is making the recycling of PET more difficult,” he stated.

PET recycling works best, Martinez said, when contaminants such as barriers are excluded early on. “The chain must work at the very beginning, starting with the collector,” he remarked. “Sometimes we have to work as a second [sorting] plant, and this is not the way.”

PET Compania Para Su Reciclado already engages in considerable sorting and processing, according to Martinez, operating a plant with manual sorters, trommel screens and Tomra/TITECH optical sorters that combine to remove contaminants and classify PET by color.

“The chain must work at the very beginning, starting with the collector. Sometimes we have to work as a second [sorting] plant, and this is not the way.” – Fernando Martinez, PET Compania Para Su Riciclado

Thijs Cox of Netherlands-based Ciparo BV described the current PET recycling market as one with thin margins that is extremely competitive. He urged plastics recyclers to be “inventive” and to find “new ways of covering your costs.”

Cox said creating end markets through the manufacturing process was one way of forging new business, listing clothing, plastic beverage cups, stuffed toys, furniture foam, thermoformed flower pots and 3D printer feedstock all as markets worthy of exploration.

Cox also said the EcoEuros.nl line of reverse vending machines offered a way for recyclers to collect PET bottles while earning display advertising space revenue, which could help to defray collection costs. According to Cox, the advertising revenue offsets collection costs while also yielding a “very clean PET” scrap stream.

The 2015 Plastics Recycling Conference Europe was 28-29 October at the Eurostars Madrid Tower Hotel in Madrid.