1. I’m a bottle
Each year, approximately 120,000 tonnes of used PET packaging are collected in Germany using the yellow bag recycling system. Unfortunately, often this material is more likely to be subjected to thermal use – combusted, in other words – than it is to be recycled. We want to change that! With its Frosch brand, Werner & Mertz has always stood for environmental protection and sustainability. Its ‘Recyclate Initiative’ is committed to effective recycling of packaging waste from the yellow bag recycling system, with the aim of achieving a closed technical cycle: a Frosch bottle should be reborn as another Frosch bottle!
2. I used to be a bottle
Frosch PET bottles have long consisted of 100 per cent recyclate. Thanks to the Recyclate Initiative, this now stems not only from PET deposit bottles but, in ever-increasing amounts, from PET packaging from the yellow bag recycling system. The Recyclate Initiative by Werner & Mertz pursues a genuine closed-loop principle aiming to make do without crude oil for the production of plastic packaging, turning instead to a previously unused source to generate high-quality material.
3. I’m going to be a bottle
The technology required for optimised recycling already exists. The process was developed in the framework of the Recyclate Initiative, thus far the only cooperation of its kind consisting of partners in a variety of industries that combine their expertise in favour of sustainable recycling. Companies such as Uni-Sensorsysteme, for instance, which contributes high-speed laser spectroscopy for the fine-sorting of PET flakes from the yellow bag recycling system. Or ALPLA, which produces new PET bottles from the recyclate thus derived.
The more companies there are using the material collected from the yellow bag recycling system to produce their packaging, the more economical the process will become. It's already successful. More than three million Frosch cleaning product bottles made with 20 per cent recyclate from the yellow bag recycling system have already successfully been marketed.
The Recyclate Initiative advocates more sustainability in waste management. Werner & Mertz and its cooperation partner NABU (German Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union) agree that the ecological orientation of the laundry detergent and household cleaners industry should not be limited to raw materials and formulas. The ecological assessment of products has to consider packaging design and composition too. One target of the Recyclate Initiative is better reuse of PET (polyethylene terephthalate) waste from the Yellow Bag. A large portion of used plastic containers is not suitably recycled. After the bottles have been collected in the Yellow Bag system, they often serve as ancillary fuel in municipal incinerators. Consequently, the precious and finite raw material of crude oil is wasted and the environment polluted by CO2.
Saving raw materials and protecting the climate
The use of PET recyclate can save many thousands of litres of crude oil. It also requires much less energy to recycle and process old PET than it does to produce new synthetic materials. Frosch PET bottles have a recyclate proportion of 100 per cent. Of this, 20 per cent comes from the yellow bag recycling system. Far greater use could be made of this source, however: each year, 1.2 million tonnes of synthetic materials find their way into the yellow bag, and roughly 10 per cent of this consists of PET waste. While 50,000 tonnes of this is mechanically processed to create for the most part inferior-quality textiles, 70,000 tonnes are used as a substitute fuel. With far-reaching consequences for the environment: the material is irretrievably lost from recycling, high levels of emissions are produced, and the proportion of carbon dioxide in the air increases. The Recyclate Initiative wants to change this!
The yellow bag as a source of raw materials
To make effective use of the yellow bag recycling system as the huge source of reusable materials it is will require use of new sorting technologies: because classic recycling (downcycling) initially works like this: plastic waste is collected from the yellow bag recycling system and is then cleaned, roughly sorted and processed into ‘flakes’. These can then be used in the production of new PET products. The only problem: this form of recycling is not enough to support the manufacture of single-colour and single-type PET bottles. This requires a much finer sorting of waste, along with a much more thorough cleaning. The good news is: the technologies to accomplish this already exist. And this is where ‘upcycling’ begins. This is the part of the recycling process that Werner & Mertz refers to as ‘eco-effectiveness’. Now, state-of-the-art laser spectroscopy is used to sort the PET flakes to produce a high-quality PET granulate from which blanks for new, transparent PET bottles are formed. This innovative technology can completely replace the use of new PET from fresh oil (virgin material) for packaging. And this is where we come full cycle.
The objectives of the Recyclate Initiative
1. A higher share of PET recyclate in PET bottles generally (outside of the beverages industry).
2. A higher share specifically of PET recyclate from the yellow bag collection system.
3. Use of new and better sorting technologies for high-quality re-use of PET from the yellow bag recycling system, extending even to food-grade applications (such as for packaging of ketchup, etc.). To this end, a project team at Werner & Mertz is working in partnership with Grüne Punkt – Duales System Deutschland, ALPLA Werke Alwin Lehner GmbH & Co KG. and Unisensor Sensorsysteme GmbH.
4. Development of a recycling-capable labelling solution.
5. Setting up an economical supply chain that ensures constant quality of rPET and a continuous supply of this reusable material.
6. The use of packaging waste from the yellow bag recycling system as an important source for rHDPE.
Unfortunately, the practice for most manufacturers is still to produce new bottles from PET on the basis of crude oil. We at Werner & Mertz want to increase the share of recyclates derived from the yellow bag recycling system to produce new PET bottles, making even better use of the potential presented by the 1.2 million tonnes of plastic waste that finds its way into the yellow bag. Not only PET bottles, but also PET bowls (e.g. trays, fruit and vegetable bowls) from the yellow bag recycling system can be used to produce an rPET material as a resource-saving basis for transparent packaging, returning this material to the technical cycle as well.
Werner & Mertz is dedicated to what is known as the Cradle to Cradle® principle. This principle provides for the return of all of a product's constituents to closed technical or biological cycles and is based on the assumption of recyclability of the individual components of a packaging. As a result, we are working to substitute critical substances used in the colours of caps with harmless materials, and to make label solutions part of a genuine cycle as well. Because a flake of synthetic material is only of value to the recycling process if the label adhesive can be washed off completely, along with the entire label material.
In addition, in collaboration with DSD (Duales System Deutschland) and the Development Department at ALPLA, we managed to identify an HDPE recyclate that can be used for the production of bottles and canisters. Even today, up to 30% of the packaging used in green care PROFESSIONAL, the Werner & Mertz large-scale user segment, consists of HDPE recyclates. Using this material from the yellow bag recycling system, provided by DSD, HDPE bottles can be produced that contain a significantly higher proportion of recyclate.
- Development of a demonstrably sustainable and recyclable film material for use in stand-up pouches
- Design of sustainable printing ink systems for labels and films