Upcycling: next evolution for sustainable resource efficiency
Faced with global resource depletion, manufacturers are increasingly turning to recycled inputs. A prime example is Procyclen, the award-winning upcycled plastics recompound from INTERSEROH Dienstleistungs GmbH, a subsidiary of German recycling specialist ALBA Group, one of the leading environmental services and raw material providers worldwide. Matching virgin material in properties and quality, Procyclen is a fully customisable, safe, sustainable and cost-effective raw material suitable for quality plastics products.
Global plastics production hit a new peak in 2013 at 288 million tonnes. Plastics are in almost everything we use. Yet even at the end of their service life, plastics are still far too valuable to just throw away. Some can be recycled into the same or a different product. About a third of the world’s countries already recycle or recover more than 80 percent of all plastics, though many lag far behind and some fall short even of their own legislative targets.
Closing the loop with ‘recycled-resource’
While plastics are often touted as recyclable, in reality most are ‘down’-cycled and end up in low-end applications. Many recycled plastics are inferior plastics products because of the polymer matrix breaking down and losing stability. Such materials perform poorly in reprocessing and the end product ages faster when exposed to heat and weathering.
Interseroh takes a new approach, creating a virgin-quality, secondary raw material with designed-in characteristics that is capable of being formulated to customers’ individual specifications. This is done by putting rigorously sorted plastic waste through a special recompounding process called ‘recycled-resource’. This innovative, uncompromising upcycling process is essential to the production of Procyclen. It follows up high-tech sorting with a unique recompounding sequence featuring extrusion, restabilisation, molecular structure rebuilding and general chemical modification. A key final step is to achieve material performance that exactly conform to the customer’s strict specifications. Additives and modifiers are combined to obtain specific complementary effects and interactions for a top-quality end product with enhanced structure and properties. In stark contrast to low-quality reclaimed plastics, Procyclen is a full match to virgin material in both properties and quality.
Procyclen consists of one hundred percent used plastics. Several prize juries have recognised the innovativeness of the ‘recycled-resource’ process, and Procyclen itself won the IndustriePreis 2013 Push For Smart Industry award.
More and more producers are going over to Procyclen for new products. Henkel, global provider of leading brands and technologies in the three business areas Laundry & Home Care, Beauty Care and Adhesive Technologies, joined forces with Interseroh to develop a renewed correction and glue roller packaging under the Pritt brand. The back of each Pritt case consists of customised Procyclen produced from polystyrene – used material partly from Henkel’s internal waste streams. In this way, Henkel and Interseroh have fashioned a closed loop for plastics while saving primary resources and setting an example of efficient product stewardship.
One of the first manufacturers to adopt Procyclen as a one-on-one substitute for primary plastics was Curver, the leading European manufacturer of resin household products. Interseroh worked together with Curver’s plastics design specialists to create a new product line called ‘Ecolife’, featuring many products like boxes, baskets and bins all made of pure Procyclen. The European Association of Plastics Recycling and Recovery Organisations (EPRO) named Ecolife the “best recycled end-consumer product” in 2012.
As best practice examples like Pritt and Ecolife show, producers are willing and able to manufacture responsibly – and to use high-quality recycling materials that meet their strict specifications as a sustainable resource.
Attested resource efficiency
Plastic products account for just four percent of fossil fuel consumption. Paradoxically, using more plastics would actually cut overall fossil fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions – and contrary to popular belief, using less would boost overall fossil fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. In a recent study, the German Fraunhofer Institute for Environmental, Safety, and Energy Technology, UMSICHT, compared the production of plastics granulate from virgin material with the production of Procyclen in terms of energy efficiency and greenhouse gas balance. The results are striking: Substituting Procyclen for primary granulate weight for weight cuts greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent. Interseroh’s innovations for high-quality recycled materials show that a closed loop for plastics is indeed possible – and that far from being a low-grade surrogate, recycled plastics can be a new resource with increased market value. By constantly doing more with less, using plastics also tends to lower the consumption of raw materials. Not only does this boost resource efficiency, it also provides consumers with increasingly cost-efficient answers to their needs.
Dr. Manica Ulcnik-Krump, Head of R&D BU recycled-resource, INTERSEROH Dienstleistungs GmbH – ALBA Group