Environment & environmental impacts

Recycling & the circular economy

For more than 25 years now, we at ALPLA have been looking closely at recycling plastics and turning these valuable materials into new packaging.

We think of recycling as an emergent economic sector with positive effects for the environment and the future of our industry. Recycling gives used plastics value. This makes investments in collection systems possible as well as in the ongoing development of recycling technologies.

The circular economy has been an important part of our sustainability strategy for many years. ALPLA will always champion a recyclable materials cycle in accordance with the bottle-to-bottle principle. Our aim is to produce new bottles from used bottles. Downcycling should be avoided wherever possible, even though this is sometimes necessary in order to meet a high recycling quota.

Excellent environmental footprint

Recycled plastics are high-quality materials and represent an excellent alternative to new products. Their use conserves fossil materials and reduces carbon emissions – a 2018 study showed that the PET regranulate made from post-consumer drinks bottles by PET Recycling Team in Wöllersdorf, Austria, results in greenhouse gas emissions that are only a tenth of the level for new material. The environmental footprint of one kilogram of recycled PET (rPET) at our recycling plant in Wöllersdorf is just 0.21 kg CO2 equivalent according to a life cycle assessment performed by c7-consult, compared with 2.19* kg CO2 equivalent in the case of new material (* PlasticsEurope 2017).

Own PET recycling plants

ALPLA operates its own recycling plants. It has the wholly owned ALPLA subsidiaries PET Recycling Team in Austria and Poland, a joint venture in Mexico and a partnership in Germany. The annual capacity of these businesses is around 50,000 tonnes of food-grade rPET and 20,000 tonnes of non-food-grade flakes. In all, these operations recycle approximately 100,000 tonnes of PET bottles a year.

We will run all the recycling plants we own exclusively on renewable energy by 2019.

Partnership with FROMM

At the beginning of July 2018, ALPLA announced a partnership with the Swiss FROMM Group in the area of PET recycling. Since then, both companies’ recycling plants – PET Recycling Team in Austria and Poland and Texplast in Germany – have been working together to guarantee the supply of raw materials to their production facilities. The aim is additionally to further optimise the already high recycling rates for PET and to significantly reduce carbon emissions by eliminating transport journeys. There are also further benefits for the partners, such as simplified access to markets in the respective countries.
In early 2019, the partners also announced the establishment of a joint venture entitled PET Recycling Team Wolfen, which will focus on the reuse of PET waste found in Germany’s ‘Gelber Sack’ yellow bin bags for recycling.

By 2022, recycled PET (rPET) will account for 23.5 per cent of converted PET material. By 2022, recycled HDPE (rHDPE) will account for 9.9 per cent of converted HDPE material.

2025 goals

In October 2018, ALPLA signed the New Plastics Economy’s Global Commitment. By signing up to this initiative of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, ALPLA has committed to achieving concrete targets by 2025:

  • All packaging solutions are to be fully recyclable.
  • The volume of processed post-consumer recycled materials is to rise to 25 per cent of total material usage.
  • 50 million euros is being made available for the expansion of recycling activities.
  • ALPLA intends to present at least three packaging solutions a year that are particularly lightweight and reduce material consumption.
  • All packaging will remain completely free of PVC.

Numerous challenges

The parameters for plastics recycling have often been challenging in recent years. This has been due to a variety of factors. Among other things, low crude oil prices have continued to put enormous downward pressure on the price of recycled plastics. Demand significantly increased in 2018, not least because of new statutory regulations such as the European Union’s circular economy package.

‘Sustainability has become established as a value and consumer awareness of sustainable packaging solutions is now very pronounced. The use of recycled materials is now no longer merely cost-driven,’ says Georg Lässer, Head of Recycling at ALPLA.

Availability of post-consumer material

According to industry estimates, demand for recycled plastics is set to increase fourfold by 2030. We are already seeing this trend at our recycling plants. ‘It is becoming increasingly difficult for us to buy sufficient good-quality material. The prices have increased significantly since 2017,’ confirms Georg Lässer. The availability of post-consumer material is therefore becoming a sticking point for the recycling industry. High production volumes of films and packaging films are taking up a large proportion of the rPET flakes available in the market. In contrast, collection rates of plastic packaging are stagnating, including in Europe. We believe that measures for educating the end consumers and also waste collection systems need to be further expanded. Recycling standards need to be made uniform legally and in terms of quality and checks need to be included if recycling is to be made efficient in the long term.

HDPE recyclates

Recycling other plastics such as HDPE remains significantly more complex and more difficult than is the case for PET. It goes without saying that we purchase and process these materials at the request of our customers. At ALPLA, we fully back recycling initiatives and are pleased when we can implement these types of projects for our customers. We still rely on the role model effect of progressive companies and environmentally aware consumers. Recycled plastics cannot be used for packaging purely for price reasons.

If material reuse (collection and recycling) is not possible, used packaging should at least be thermally treated. Here, the heating value of plastic waste can be used for district heating or power, for example. Landfilling and, in particular, the thoughtless throwing away of waste are the poorest forms of disposal. We therefore also support private collection organisations in Poland, for example, in order to help improve waste management.