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28. September 2020

Make plastics packaging sustainable with plastship and RecyClass

Waldems, July 2020 - - Andreas Bastian, founder and managing director of plastship, a service platform for plastic recyclates, is certain: "When buying a product, I want its packaging to be recycled. But so far, as a consumer, I cannot really ensure that. Is a packaging recycled and if so, how well? The question of recyclability relates directly to the input quality in plastics recycling in virtually all plastics material flows - whether from commercial end-users or from household collections. If this improves, the quality of plastics recyclates also improves. The quality of recycled plastics, in turn, determines their possible applications, as far as legally possible. In order to approach the issue of sustainability as a brand, ensuring that the used packaging arrives in the cycle as a high-quality resource is a good first step and therefore promotes it.“

A Key Indicator for the promotion of the Circular Economy

Recyclability can be the key performance indicator for circular capability and thus for a functioning circular economy in the field of plastics packaging, if it not only promotes recycling, but also increases the quality of the recycled material to be achieved. The challenge is, as so often, to ensure that reality is reflected in a standard that delivers valid results, is comparable, allows a wide range of applications and is as scalable as possible so that effects can be felt across regions and the effectiveness of optimization measures can be tracked. This requires an international approach. Since material flows often cross borders and plastics converters and brand owners are in most cases internationally active, it makes sense to pursue a European standard in the assessment of recyclability. This will make it easier for all players to orient themselves according to an assessment basis for the joint pursuit of sustainability goals and the promotion of the circular economy for plastics packaging.

A European Standard for the Assessment of Recyclability

For Bastian, RecyClass is "the most promising instrument to create a comprehensive EU-wide standard for the assessment of recyclability and thus to provide clarity to plastics processors, brand owners and end users regarding recyclability.“ The initiative brought together several actors from the plastics packaging value chain in 2019 to create uniform guidelines for the design for recycling, a standardized method and test protocols for assessing the recyclability of plastic packaging and new packaging technologies on the European market.  

By incorporating the practical reality from the point of view of European plastics recyclers, RecyClass lays a solid foundation for bringing recyclable packaging to the European market. It also takes into account that the collection and recycling structures of the individual countries differ from each other. RecyClass defines general requirements for the recyclability of plastic packaging from all areas of application and incorporates these into its Design for Recycling Guidelines. As a certification body, plastship evaluates and certifies the recyclability of plastics packaging based on the RecyClass method and supports brands and manufacturers in the design of recyclable packaging solutions. For consumers, easily recyclable packaging can be labelled. The result is the classification in a recyclability class (A-F) by certificate, a result report and a logo including certificate number. On request plastship also produces benchmarks for packaging portfolios.

Good to recycle - what does that mean?

For a package to „not pose any recyclability issues“ and to „potentially feed a closed-loop scheme to be used in the same application.“ (recyclability class A), the packaging should be designed to match the material flow in the recycling process. As a general rule, a high proportion of the target polymer, light colors and as few contaminating (materially dissimilar and inseparable in the process) components as possible should be used to promote the quality of recycled plastics. RecyClass defines the following minimum requirements for recyclability:

  • The product must be made with a plastic that is collected for recycling, has market value and/or is supported by a legislatively mandated program.
  • The product must be sorted and aggregated into defined streams for recycling processes.
  • The product can be processed and reclaimed/recycled with commercial recycling processes.
  • The recycled plastic becomes a raw material that is used in the production of new products.

“[…] fulfilling these four categories does not automatically designate a product recyclable. Recycled material is available in many different quality grades which depend among others on the quality of the input material to the process […].“

During an assessment, not only are specifications from manufacturers collected and determined using an online tool, but they are confirmed by accredited auditors using defined analyses and documented in a certificate. The data and information on the collection, sorting, separability and recycling of packaging are considered EU-wide, assessed systematically in a valid process based on realistic criteria and the practical recyclability is therefore proven. In addition, the reasons for an evaluation are explained in a comprehensible manner and alternatives and best practices are communicated. Also considering possible conflicting goals between recyclability and the functions of the packaging.

Sustainability - much more than a Marketing Aspect

For Andreas Bastian the sustainability of products is increasingly becoming an economic necessity. Already today, more and more consumers understand what distinguishes packaging optimized for recycling and to what extent it serves environmental protection. "With visible certifications, end consumers are increasingly able to recognize sustainable products and packaging. This will also have an impact on product marketing in the mid-term. There is already movement in this area today. Many industrial companies are also orienting themselves towards new sustainability goals, which will lead to supply chains being optimized and thus also to packaging solutions being reconsidered. Ultimately, the circularity of products and packaging with regard to sustainability will continue to increase in importance. Recyclability provides the key performance indicator to show alignment with circular economy. And even if the establishment of recyclable packaging is perhaps only a small first step, it is still a step in the right direction.“

RecyClass is a comprehensive cross-industry initiative that works to advance plastic packaging recyclability within Europe. RecyClass assesses recyclability and provides specific recommendations on how to improve packaging design to fit current recycling technologies. Activities within RecyClass include the development of Recyclability Evaluation Protocols and testing of innovation materials. Findings are used to update the RecyClass Design for Recycling guidelines and the online free tool.

Mireia Boada

plastship is a subsidiary of RIGK GmbH, a German recycling scheme operator with more than 25 years of experience in plastics recycling, offering digital services to make plastics more circular. The company is providing a service network to increase plastics recyclate uptake and to foster European circular economy. It addresses three major challenges: To simplify procurement with fitting plastics recyclate qualities by use of a digital platform, to assess and to optimize the recyclability of products and packaging, and to create individual recycling concepts involving the recycling services of the network. By combining digital approaches with a maximum of service orientation, plastship is a project partner for business customers, helping to structure, to perform, and to communicate activities regarding plastics recycling and the use of plastics recyclates.

Andreas Bastian

Further information:
Andreas Bastian, plastship GmbH
Auf der Lind 10, 65529 Waldems
Phone: +49 6126-58 980-12, mobil: +49 151-42 10 10 53

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