Can plastics be recycled without losing quality?

How researchers want to improve the recycling of plastic

Exactly. If it's not on it, you shouldn't notice it.

How well something can be recycled depends on which plastic it is. Which material is the easiest or the hardest to recycle and why?

Basically, there are plastics which, due to their properties, can be recycled very well or very poorly. For example, thermosets are bad, including many foams, while thermoplastics are usually easier to recycle. How well something can be recycled also depends on the material flows: They play a huge role. With the one-way deposit system, we have created one of the cleanest and best-functioning recycling streams in the world with the PET bottles. We get very pure material, because the deposit system always reliably collects the same thing. In addition, relatively little material leaves the system. We have problems with a lot of other food packaging because it is dirty and poorly separated when it ends up in the bins. They can hardly be sorted and recycled economically. Most of it is simply burned.

That is an important keyword. Many people are of the opinion that separating waste is of no use, "because everything is burned anyway". What do you think?

I do not agree with it. Waste separation pays off. However, it is important that you do it right. The better the garbage is separated, the more it is worth recycling it, or in other words: the better recycling is possible.

So should you rinse everything that you throw in the yellow sack beforehand?

No, the packaging does not necessarily have to be rinsed clean. But there shouldn't be half a cup of yogurt in there. Well scratched out would also be something. And while we're on the yogurt cup: If there is paper around it, it is important to take it off and remove the aluminum lid and throw it in separately. A lot has already been done so that the cup can be recycled.

»Waste separation pays off. But it is important that you do it right "
(Holger Berg)

What happens to plastic products that are not recycled? You mentioned earlier that a lot of it is burned?

Of the 5.2 million tons of plastic in household waste that was generated in Germany in 2017, 3.15 million tons, i.e. around 60 percent, were incinerated. According to the same statistics, around 1.3 million tons, i.e. around 25 percent, were sent to German recycling or other recovery facilities.

And the rest was transported abroad?

Yes. In the statistics compiled by the company Conversio, around 0.7 million tons are defined as export surpluses. But that only means that we exported 0.7 million tons more than we imported.

So is it possible that our export waste ends up in the sea somewhere? Or where is he going?

It is very different. A large part of the export takes place within Europe. However, we still export plastics to non-European countries. It can also happen - such cases have been documented - that they end up in a garbage dump in Southeast Asia. In general, when it comes to exported waste, it is difficult to understand how much of it is recycled - and how much ends up somewhere else.

In September 2018, the EU agreed a strategy for plastics, which among other things stipulates that all plastic packaging on the EU market must be recyclable by 2030. Do you think that is realistic?

That depends on how strictly you pull it off. I think: it can be done, but not a sure-fire success. You will have to work on the materials. Nowadays, they are usually optimized for a low weight and long shelf life of food - and not for recycling. There are of course exceptions, for example the PET bottle. The cheese packaging, which contains wafer-thin films made of five to six different plastics, is exactly the opposite. Fortunately, there is now a great awareness that something has to change. Efforts to achieve this come not only from politicians, but also from consumers and companies themselves: from recyclers, manufacturers and retailers.

Do we even need non-returnable PET bottles? Wouldn't returnable or even glass bottles be more sustainable?

Reusable versus disposable - definitely yes. When it comes to plastic or glass, you always have to look carefully. Glass is not always more sustainable. This is especially true when products are transported over long distances. If you drink the water from your region from a plastic bottle, it is definitely better than if you buy Italian water in glass bottles in northern Germany. Such flows are problematic - recycling does not matter at all. Design also plays a role. It is good if reusable packaging has a standard design. This is the case with mineral water, for example: that with a lot of carbon dioxide is filled into bulbous bottles with knobs, while still water usually comes in green glass bottles. If a manufacturer has his own bottle design that only he takes back and everyone else has no use for it, reusable storage is much more complex.

What measures on the part of our government do you think are necessary? Should all single-use products be banned in the future?

I believe that we are already on the right track with the new packaging law. It stipulates that up to 90 percent of the materials will be recycled by 2022, 63 percent of them material. It is certainly good to think about whether there are other places where recycling loops like PET can be created. The state can also do a lot through its own procurement. We call this »green procurement«: If what the state purchases and consumes itself meets sustainable standards, a great deal of demand is set in motion.

What belongs in which bin?

According to figures from the Federal Statistical Office, every German produces around 455 kilograms of garbage per year. According to surveys, over 90 percent of people are in favor of recycling it. In fact, citizens would have to cooperate and sort out for recycling to work. But: what actually belongs in which bin? First of all, garbage disposal differs in different federal states and even in districts and individual cities. So you should check with your community to be on the safe side. But you can always do it six categories at least roughly differentiate from household waste.

1. Lightweight packaging made of plastic, aluminum, tinplate or composite materials such as beverage cartons belong in the yellow bag or the yellow bin. Until the end of 2008, only packaging marked with the green dot was allowed to be disposed of in the containers provided by the municipalities. This is no longer the case. In order to still know what belongs in it, the company, which around 1990 set up the world's first dual system for recycling sales packaging, provides consumers with a detailed separation aid.

2. Glass waste: Empty (deposit-free) bottles, glasses and flacons belong in the respective waste glass container sorted according to white, brown and green glass. The green dot formulates the motto: blue is green. Blue - as well as red - glass belongs in the green glass container, because green glass can absorb the largest proportion of foreign colors. But not every type of glass can be disposed of in the waste glass containers. Light bulbs, drinking glasses and flat glass such as window panes or mirrors can disrupt the recycling process because of their higher melting point or their special composition. Ceramics, porcelain or earthenware have no place here either, otherwise ceramic particles and stones will be trapped in the new glass.

3. Waste paper: This includes paper, cardboard and cardboard packaging. On the other hand, baking paper, used handkerchiefs, serviettes and kitchen towels or thermal paper, i.e. receipts or tickets, do not belong in the waste paper, but in the residual waste. Depending on the municipality, there are different collection systems, such as waste paper containers, blue bins or regular waste paper collections. Whether for the printer, school or using the toilet - there is now a recycling version for almost every paper requirement. The Blue Angel environmental seal guarantees that 100 percent of the paper fibers are obtained from waste paper.

4. residual waste: All waste that cannot be recycled goes into the mostly black bin. In addition to the things mentioned above (under “3. Waste paper”), this includes, for example, other hygiene items, cigarette butts, candles, scraps of fabric, cat litter, ballpoint pens and other office supplies. They end up in waste incineration plants, where the released heat is used to generate energy. In Germany there is no uniform regulation for the disposal of medication and pharmaceuticals. As a rule, they can be disposed of in the residual waste. Many municipalities offer the disposal of medicines at recycling centers or at mobile collection points for pollutants. In addition, many pharmacies also take them back free of charge.

5. Biowaste: According to a new study, private households throw away twice as much food as previously thought. Since 2015, all municipalities have had to offer their citizens the opportunity to collect vegetable and animal waste in a green or brown bin. In contrast to compost, on which only raw vegetable material should be disposed of, cooked food waste as well as leftover meat and bones can also be disposed of in the organic waste bin. Animal droppings or wood, however, have no place in the bin. It is also important to dispose of organic waste without a plastic bag. You should also avoid bin bags made of biodegradable plastics, as they do not decompose quickly enough. Bags made of recycled paper, which rot 100 percent in the high-speed composting plant, are better. It is best to collect the waste without a bag in a bucket or something similar.

6. Hazardous waste: Objects or substances that are toxic and / or explosive may not be disposed of in the residual waste or other bins, but must be brought to a recycling center or special collection points. This includes, for example, discarded electrical appliances as well as paints, varnishes, chemicals and pesticides. There are special collection containers for batteries in supermarkets. Smaller electrical devices can also often be handed in at electrical stores.