Dual Systems: On The Way to More Recyclates
3/2/2023 Insights Article

Dual Systems: On The Way to More Recyclates

Dual systems have been collecting, sorting and recycling sales packaging for trade and industry since 1991 - and thus play a central role in plastics recycling. Ten providers now compete on the German market.

Waste sorted by waste separation is sensibly recycled wherever possible. Waste sorted by waste separation is sensibly recycled wherever possible.
The report from the Central Packaging Register makes good reading: at 65.5 percent, the mechanical recycling rate for plastic packaging climbed to a new record in 2021. The rate even exceeds the legal requirement for the following year. But what counts for the environment is how much recyclate ultimately finds its way back into new packaging. And here, despite progress, there is still room for improvement. In 2021, the proportion of recyclates from post-consumer waste in plastic packaging was a modest nine percent, according to the German Plastics Packaging Industry Association (IK). The new EU requirements are now creating pressure. A minimum recyclate content of 10 to 35 percent for all plastic packaging by 2030, and 50 to 65 percent by 2040 - that is "very ambitious," judges the Federal Environment Agency.

Recyclates again readily available, but virgin material cheaper

Last year, recyclates were in short supply. Recently, however, the wind has changed. "Recyclates are currently in good supply, although many plants are only running at partial load," says Dr. Thomas Probst of the German Association for Secondary Raw Materials and Waste Disposal (bvse).  
However, virgin materials are currently cheaper, and demand for secondary raw materials is correspondingly subdued. "Of course, this also inhibits opportunities to invest in manufacturing capacity," says Norbert Völl, spokesman at Grüner Punkt. Nevertheless, the pioneer among the dual systems intends to further expand its two recycling facilities. With a market share of around 17 percent for lightweight packaging (LVP), the Cologne-based company ranks second behind industry leader Bellandvision. Only Reclay Systems, Interseroh+, Zentek - and Prezero, the in-house dual system of the Schwarz retail group with its Lidl and Kaufland brands - still have double-digit market shares in LVP. 

Schwarz strategy seems to be paying off

With Prezero, the retail giant entered the supply business itself in 2020. Since then, the Schwarz Group has held all stages of the recycling cycle in one hand. The concept seems to be working. 
According to the group, Lidl has already almost reached the target it set itself - by 2025, a quarter of its own-brand plastic packaging should be made of recycled material - with 23 percent. Kaufland has even exceeded the quota with 29 percent.  In the case of PET bottles, production has been completely converted to recyclate, apart from labels and caps.
Prezero competitor Interseroh+ has adopted a similar approach. The former Lidl partner now cooperates closely with competitor Aldi, which in return gave Remondis subsidiary Eko-Punkt the boot after just one year. "Beyond packaging licensing, the dual system Interseroh+ offers the complete recyclables cycle from a single source - from recycling-friendly packaging design to high-quality recyclates for a sustainable cycle," says Markus Müller-Drexel, CEO of Interseroh+. Recyclates are developed at the company's own competence center in Maribor. 

"Collection must be improved"

So all is well? Challenges remain in any case. Among other things, Interseroh+ sees them in the trend toward composite packaging, which would complicate the sorting process and make recycling impossible in some cases. Green Dot wants to "intelligently combine" mechanical and chemical processes in order to obtain more recyclate from plastic waste.

The bvse expert Probst also considers the design for recycling to be expandable. In addition, however, collection must also be improved, especially for lightweight packaging. The LVP collection contains more and more residual waste, favored by the changeover from bags to garbage cans and by underfloor containers, he said. "People are more likely to put residual waste in a garbage can once. No one sees it." The collection of LVP must be comparable to the collection of paper, he said. "There is still a world of difference in quality here."