The storage area of Alba’s plant in Eisenhüttenstadt contains bales of compressed plastic waste, which are stacked metres high. They contain packaging, bottles and other everyday objects made out of different varieties of plastic, 90% of which have already been separated as diligently as possible by type. The two recycled materials Recythen and Procyclen are produced in the plant in an elaborate and sophisticated process.
Reprocessing of plastics at ALBA
The delivered bales with a size of about one cubic metre contain the pre-sorted reusable materials polyethylene (PE), polystyrene (PS) and polypropylene (PP). All of them will be shredded, sorted again and rinsed. Firstly, the parts containing iron are extracted with the help of strong electromagnets. During the subsequent rinsing process, the plastics are separated from other materials, such as glass, paper fibres or food and soap residues, in a centrifuge and by gravity in a sink/float tank.
The plastic parts then go through the complex “recycled resource” process, which was developed by the ALBA Group and refined at the plant over many years of constant research and development. Alternating phases of heating and cooling process the material further and further until it shows the desired properties. Additives can also be added during this stage to influence properties such as the elasticity and colour or the impact and tensile strength. In this way, the end products can be individually adapted to the customers’ wishes. In addition, the elaborate process ensures a consistently high quality of the end product despite the very diverse starting materials.
Eventually, two varieties of high-quality granulate materials made out of recycled plastic leave the factory, namely Recythen and Procyclen. Both raw materials have already delivered excellent results during various manufacturing processes, including injection moulding, blow moulding and extrusion. While Recythen is particularly suitable for the production of technical products, films or pipes, Procyclen makes it possible to develop completely new products. In terms of fluidity, impact strength, stiffness, and UV and heat resistance, the raw materials can be tailored specifically to the needs of customers from the processing industry. “When a customer approaches us with a request for a certain application, we first analyse the products carefully to determine if they have the desired properties and then we test the recipe and produce appropriate quantities of samples. Only when everything is in order will we initiate mass production,” says Veltjens.
The two products Recythen and Procyclen not only help save valuable raw materials, they are also a step ahead of newly produced products in terms of climate protection. For example, in comparison to new plastics made from petroleum, the use of Recythen saves 811.2 kilograms of greenhouse gases per each ton that is produced. This represents a 50% reduction of harmful greenhouse gas emissions. Furthermore, the consumption of primary energy per each ton that is produced is lowered by 12,626 kilowatt hours. This corresponds to more than 22,150 washing cycles at 30 degrees in a washing machine with energy efficiency class A. In comparison to conventional plastics, Procyclen, which has to go through a more complex production process, still achieves greenhouse gas savings of 30% and also saves around 10,500 kilowatt hours of electricity per each ton that is produced. However, the production process of Procyclen has been further developed and now it is also possible to achieve greenhouse gas emissions savings of up to 50% in comparison to the use of primary plastic.
The demand for high-quality recycled materials grows
When it comes to innovative processes for the recycling of plastics, the Alba plant in Eisenhüttenstadt is an important location that pools expertise and continues to develop the processing procedures. The key factor for the years to come: Alba assumes that the share of recycled materials used in production processes will continue to grow in the coming years. Plant Manager Veltjens is optimistic about the future: “The demand for our two recycled materials is growing steadily. Many companies are looking for answers to the ever-increasing challenges posed by an efficient raw material economy.”
There are several reasons for his optimism. The manufacturing industry has already set itself demanding sustainability standards in preparation for a shortage of raw materials, potential legal requirements and the expectations of customers, who are paying increasing attention to the origin of the products they buy. The image also plays an important role: being able to supply companies such as toom, keeeper or STABILO with recycled plastics from Eisenhüttenstadt is a huge achievement. A supplier that consistently offers high-quality products and can also respond to the customer’s wishes will prevail at the growth market.
High-quality products made of recycled plastic; photo: ALBA Group “At the same time, distrust and the need for more information are often still considerable,” says Veltjens. The recycling industry wants to help eliminate possible doubts that designers and marketing experts might have with regard to their product development activities. “We advise manufacturers of plastic products about how they can meet their design requirements in terms of the recyclability of their products on the one hand and in terms of secondary raw materials use on the other,” explains Veltjens. The best way to eliminate concerns is to show the success that various competitors have achieved with recycled products that can compete with newly manufactured products in terms of their quality and variety, and that are at the same time more cost-efficient and environmentally friendly. In principle, however, it is fair to say that even today he can deliver recycled materials with a quality equal to that of newly produced goods and the products even have a much better carbon and energy footprint.
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