EU regulation brings momentum to the circular economy

At the 14th Grüner Punkt Forum, manufacturers and experts discussed the question of how packaging made of plastic and other packaging materials can become more sustainable.

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A full house at the Grüner Punkt headquarters in Cologne: CEO Laurent Auguste welcomed numerous GreenDot customers as well as representatives from associations and science to the 14th Grüner Punkt Forum. Under the title "One step beyond – circular economy", renowned international experts ventured a look beyond the boundaries of the circular economy for packaging. Where is recycling heading? What role does sorting play? What can artificial intelligence do in this context? And, above all, what legal requirements regarding the use of recyclates and recyclability will the economy have to adapt to?


Under the direction of Professor Dr.-Ing. habil. Marek Hauptmann, the Dresden Packaging and Processing Technology Department of the Fraunhofer Institute for Process Engineering and Packaging IVV is an important player in the "AI Application Hub Plastic Packaging KIOptiPack" of the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). In his keynote speech "Improving the sustainability of plastic packaging through AI", he presented his research focus. Hauptmann and his team are linking all material data along the entire value chain for the first time with the aim of using recycled polymer qualities in packaging production processes in a function-related manner. This includes impurities and foreign molecules from recycling, odorous substances, key parameters for describing the processing behavior of plastics and films, guideline criteria for processing success, machine configuration and settings. By using artificial intelligence, the researchers want to pave the way for a more sustainable circular economy.


Anna Kupferschmitt, Head of European Policy and Communication at AVU – Allianz Verpackung + Umwelt, spoke about the European Packaging Regulation: "PPWR and other requirements – how far-reaching are the changes?" The obligated parties in the EU member states must prepare themselves for, among other things, specifications on the recyclability of packaging, including planned sales bans and differentiated recycled content use quotas for plastic packaging. According to Kupferschmitt's assessment, the PPWR will also be passed by the end of the year under a newly composed EU Parliament. Among the legislative projects that will be no less significant and challenging for the German economy, but which cannot yet be precisely scheduled, are the EU requirements for mass balancing for chemical recycling, the reforms to the German Packaging Act with Section 21 (license fee modulation) and the allocation of the EU plastics tax to manufacturers.


Martin Schröder, Managing Director of the Fachverband Kartonverpackungen für flüssige Nahrungsmittel e.V. (FKN), made clear how strongly the PPWR influences a packaging material with his contribution "The effects of the PPWR on the beverage carton!". 490,000 tons of beverage cartons are generated as packaging waste in the EU every year. He considers compliance with the minimum recycled content to be difficult or almost impossible to achieve, but overall he believes that the beverage carton industry is very well prepared for the PPWR and the possible delegated acts. Beverage carton manufacturers across the EU are planning to invest up to 150 million euros in recycling plants such as Palurec GmbH near Cologne. Here, the plastic and aluminum components from beverage cartons are first separated from each other and then processed into HDPE, LDPE and aluminum.


Denis Völler, Vice President Purchasing and Supply Chain at Der Grüne Punkt, highlighted the importance of sorting for the subsequent recycling steps of used packaging in his presentation "Sorting technology as a driver of plastics recycling: Europe's most modern sorting plant for lightweight and metal packaging". He used the example of the TriPlast sorting plant in Ennshafen, Austria, to illustrate what is possible in this area today. This joint venture between ARA, Bernegger and GreenDot currently operates the most modern sorting plant in Europe and has been in trial operation since February 2024. With a capacity to process 100,000 tons of lightweight packaging per year, 24 unmixed sorted fractions are obtained – more than twice as many as in an average sorting plant.


From sorting to recycling plastic packaging: Professor Kim Ragaert, Full Professor and Chair of Circular Plastics – Maastricht University, presented in her lecture "From mechanical to chemical recycling of plastics – how does a complimentary system work?" from a scientific perspective on how mechanical and chemical recycling processes of plastics complement each other in a complimentary system. She advises not to think in terms of recycling rates, but in terms of virgin fuel displacement. It is necessary to consider the carbon cycle as a whole and to establish a technology-independent recycling cascade based on the efficient use of energy and the suitability of the respective polymer technology. Based on these assumptions, she believes that recycling rates (input) of up to 80 percent are possible, and up to 70 percent in terms of replacing fuels (output). "There is no silver bullet": in her opinion, more than just one technology is required to achieve these goals.


Mark Vester, Executive Vice President Germany and Business Development at Der Grüne Punkt, picked up the ball. In his presentation on the corporate strategy "GreenDot: only the mix can do it", he highlighted the transformation of GreenDot into an international recycling specialist. In 2024, GreenDot will be active as a group of companies across Europe in five areas: EPR, sorting, mechanical and chemical recycling as well as in the preparation of input materials for chemical recycling. To this end, the company operates its own plants or is involved in joint ventures such as TriPlast in Ennshafen. The current plan is to launch a pyrolysis plant in France in 2025 and a feedstock preparation plant for chemical recycling in Germany in 2027.

Information on our guest speakers and their presentations can be found here