Six key factors – one goal
Improving the circular economy for plastics in the Austrian market and beyond
Konrad Wasserbauer, Greiner Packaging’s circular economy director, was invited by the Austrian Economic Chambers’ Professional Association for Waste Disposal and Resource Management to write a guest article for its members’ newspaper (UPDATE*). We are happy that we can now share the article with you, too. Konrad Wasserbauer describes the current pain points in the sector, the opportunities for the industry, and our goals for advancing a successful circular economy.
The plastics industry in Austria is innovative and always at the forefront of technological developments. We are currently dealing with a new environment for packaging recycling. Here are six important considerations from a packaging producer’s perspective:
1. Product bans and eco-modulated distributor fees
Product bans and distribution restrictions represent a significant intrusion into the freedom of market actors and, in our opinion, should only be regarded as a last resort. There is no question that the ambitious target of making all packaging in the EU market reusable or recyclable by 2030 is right and important. But targeted financial penalties are worth considering in cases where solutions are not found in line with these objectives. One example in the EU would be eco-modulation in relation to distributor fees. Approaches like these are sensible and fair.
2. Recyclability: an essential aspect of a circular economy
As a packaging manufacturer, we are particularly committed to meeting the needs and requirements of the dairy industry. In doing so, we take a holistic approach to packaging optimization, playing an active role in advancing the transition to a circular economy. We follow the design for recycling (D4R) approach – both in our functional components and our product design. But from our perspective, it is also important for there to be a standardized definition of recyclability within the EU. If the criteria for this are compiled in a list of negatives, this should be based on a minimum standard that is regularly reviewed while taking into account the development potential in terms of the collection and recycling infrastructure. All of this will help us to make recyclability more tangible – and, in turn, make it practical to implement.
3. Easier sorting with innovative systems and packaging solutions
A modern collection and recycling infrastructure harnessing digital innovation plays an important role in the recycling process. This includes potential innovations such as digital watermarks. These are already being tested on our K3® yogurt cups. In the future, this will make it possible to provide information about the packaging’s food-grade status and material composition. In future state-of-the-art sorting facilities, this will make it easier to assign the packaging to the correct stream, as well as making the processes more efficient and delivering more homogeneous results. Naturally, the ideal situation is for the consumer to also play their role by separating the packaging components. We are convinced that they would be even more willing to do so if they were better informed and made aware of their role and responsibility.
4. Basic requirement: top-quality recycled materials
In the future, we will have a particular stake in obtaining the cleanest possible stream from hollow items – especially PP, PS, PET, and HDPE – so that packaging can be reused for food contact applications in the future. However, this is difficult with the current collection and sorting infrastructure and the current sorting rates. At present, a positive EFSA opinion has not been issued on r-PS, r-PP, and r-HDEP for dairy applications. As a result, we are involved in various partnerships to take advantage of high-quality waste streams and increase the likelihood of positive EFSA opinions.
5. r-PS: a real opportunity
In our view, every polymer type deserves fair consideration and should have a chance to stake its place in a circular economy. In order to help close the loop for PS, we joined forces with Styrenics Circular Solutions (SCS) in spring of 2020. This collaborative effort aims to close material loops in food applications by utilizing mechanical and chemical recycling. The first K3® yoghurt cups made of 100 percent r-PS were successfully tested in Switzerland along with our SCS partner M-Industrie. These did not reveal any sensory deviation – that is to say, there was no difference in taste. This shows that we are on the right track in this area, too, and that we can create greater movement toward an EFSA opinion together with other strong partners.
6. Critical appraisal of deposit systems
When it comes to designing a deposit-return system for single-use drink containers, the aspects of material ownership and open market access are essential to us. At Greiner Packaging, we therefore take a critical view of any aliquot revenue distribution scheme in relation to the quantity placed on the market. In our opinion, a deposit system must not result in certain market actors being systematically disadvantaged. Instead, we support the free sale of materials and are looking to form partnerships with raw material manufacturers to work on chemically or mechanically recycled materials.