„Product responsibility over the entire life cycle“
The Specialist Association Foamed Plastics and Polyurethanes (FSK) represents processing and raw material companies, machine manufacturers, as well as system houses/formulators from Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and surrounding countries. Original Equipment Manufacturers (OMEs) such as Volkswagen are among the members, as is the recycling specialist RAMPF Eco Solutions. We asked FSK CEO Klaus Junginger how important polyurethane recycling is for the association and why the versatile plastic could be a key material for a circular economy.
Mr. Junginger, the media presence of sustainability and recycling has increased significantly in recent years. Have these issues also gained in importance for the FSK and its member companies?
Sustainability, environmental protection, recycling, and recovery play a major role in politics and society. In the past few decades, a necessary and future-oriented rethinking has taken place – national and European legislation as well as global agreements and objectives have a clear tendency to make companies assume product responsibility over the entire life cycle. Considerations of recycling and recovery already play a major role in product development.
Of course, this also applies to our member companies; they are committed to these goals and the FSK supports their implementation. A recent example for this are foam processors, who founded a new specialist group to tackle current issues such as sustainability. Lightweight construction is also a current, albeit no longer brand new topic – new technologies and the targeted use of materials for the benefit of energy efficiency and environmental protection are an important area in the FSK and for the industry. With its excellent properties, polyurethane (PU) can become a key material here. In addition, we are developing a concept to augment our innovation award with a sustainability category.
The FSK founded the Recycling & Recovery Committee back in 2003. What is its objective? How many members does it have and which topics are currently being worked on?
The Recycling & Recovery Committee is dealing with current and future legislative requirements, including topics such as landfill ban, waste framework directive, end-of-life vehicle legislation, the implementation of the electrical directive and packaging law or the recycling and waste law.
The committee consists of FSK members who are looking to devote themselves to these questions in a special way and to make a contribution both outside and within the association. These are companies that deal with the recycling of waste or that use recycled materials in production or deal with the recycling of old plastics and want to contribute to the circular economy.
The use of recycled materials in new products without any loss of quality or properties is an enormous achievement in our industry.
Of course, all specialist groups are open to every member company, enabling them to take part in meetings and benefit from the expertise on individual topics. Events such as works tours of the recycling plant of Odenwald-Chemie GmbH, PDR Recycling GmbH + Co. KG, or the VW plastics recycling center allow us to see state-of-the-art technology on site. We pursue a holistic approach to sustainability by linking different areas. For this, recycling and recovery are included in our symposium that deals with innovations, technology, and materials. The event “REACH meets Recycling” in Italy also makes the connection to another major topic – European chemicals law. [REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals) is a European Union regulation that addresses the production and use of chemical substances and their potential impacts on human health and the environment.]
Together with committee members, we also developed a code of conduct that contains a passage on sustainability, recycling, and recovery. Furthermore, we deal with current issues via our sponsorship of the German Association of Plastics Converters, GKV. Last year, the GKV, in cooperation with four other associations, scrutinized the product ban in the new recycling law and initiated a legal review.
What has been achieved in the field of PU recycling in the past 20 years?
The number of laws in the field of recycling and recovery and their constant amendment show that a lot has changed and that a rethink is taking hold. Already in the development and production process, factors such as energy use and efficiency, conservation of resources, product life cycle, ecological balance, and sustainability play a role. According to the German Federal Environment Agency, around 5.88 million tons of plastic waste was recycled in 2015. In 1994, it was only 1.4 million tons.
The material flow of plastics in Germany also illustrates this fundamental change – most recently, the amount of recycled material has increased by around five percent annually, while the amount of new plastics used has decreased by 2.5 percent. This is due to the further development of high-quality recycling technologies. The use of recycled materials in new products without any loss of quality or properties is an enormous achievement in our industry.
However, the aspired expansion of material recycling is still associated with disproportionately high effort and costs in many areas. In this case, raw material and energetic recovery help to utilize all plastics in a circular economy. The PU industry, like the plastics industry as a whole, perceives the circular economy not only as a challenge, but also as an opportunity. It is making every effort to fulfill all requirements and open up new opportunities.
We are glad that RAMPF Eco Solutions is involved in the FSK and that Marco Werth is active as voluntary deputy spokesperson for the Recycling & Recovery Committee.
Where do you see the greatest potential and the greatest challenges for PU recycling?
Both lie in the diversity and wide-ranging application areas of PU. Due to its outstanding properties, the plastic is used in almost every area of life. The challenges that arise for the development of individual products and its use from consumer products to special products in sensitive areas will also be reflected in PU recycling. However, many technical and innovative successes have already been achieved here – and this is something we can build on.
Mr. Junginger, we thank you for the informative interview and wish you and the FSK continued success.