RENOLIT Goes Circular – our path to the circular economy
Plastics shape our modern life more than any other material. They are lightweight, durable, flexible and versatile. But the growing volume of plastic products worldwide that are disposed of as “waste” after their often short-lived use has become a threat to people, their environment and the climate. As one of the leading manufacturers of high-quality plastic films and related products, we are facing up to our responsibilities too: with our commitment to a more circular economy, we are helping to continue to preserve the foundations and quality of life for current and future generations on Earth. You can find out exactly what this means here.
Paradigm shift from a linear to circular economy
The linear economy
So far, global economic systems have been characterized by the linear economy. It is defined by a “take, make and dispose” approach. The return of products after use, recycling or reuse of the raw materials used play a subordinate role. The more products are manufactured, the more valuable raw materials are needed and disposed of as “waste” at the end of a product life cycle. As raw material consumption grows, so does energy demand, increasing the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
In the meantime, we know that the limited resources of our planet are not sufficient for the linear economic strategy in the long run. By 2021, the Earth will be about 178 percent “overused”, which means we will need 1.78 planets to meet our resource consumption needs. 1
This realization has led to a paradigm shift in many areas in recent years, ushering in an era of circular economy to protect the living conditions for humans on Earth. By conserving and intelligently using resources, the circular economy has the potential to reduce the global consumption of raw materials by 28 percent and greenhouse gas emissions by 39 percent. 2
It is therefore an important strategy for limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees – a goal which some 194 countries have committed to as part of the 2015 UN climate agreement in Paris. 3
A circular economy is based on the principles of avoiding waste and pollution, keeping products and materials in use, and regenerating natural systems.
The circular economy
The circular economy is an economic strategy that respects planetary boundaries and helps implement the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
The circular economy starts with product design and aims to use resources and energy as efficiently as possible, to extend the life of products, to enable repair or multiple uses, and to plan directly for recycling at the end of a product’s life cycle so that the raw materials can be incorporated into new products. This prevents valuable resources such as plastics from becoming waste and polluting the environment. Wherever feasible, renewable raw materials should also be used instead of fossil raw materials in order to reduce climate-damaging emissions.
The “RENOLIT Goes Circular” initiative
To conserve resources and protect our environment, we have made a commitment to the Circular Plastics Alliance (CPA) to become a more circular economy. Admittedly: we still have to overcome many challenges ahead on our path to accomplishing this. As this initiative focuses on the entire product life cycle in order to achieve sustainability and close the material and energy cycle as far as possible. Below you can find a summary of our targets and action that we have collated under the umbrella of our “RENOLIT Goes Circular” initiative in order to operate a circular economy in the long term.
We will already pay even more attention to achieving the longest possible service life and thinking about the subsequent recovery and recycling of the raw material in the product design stage in future. Many of our products are already 100 percent recyclable today.
In addition, we will selectively expand our product portfolio with new products and applications that have a higher recyclate content in order to be able to incorporate recyclables as far as possible. To this end, we will also enter into collaborations and promote the transfer of knowledge.
As an innovation driver, we are working on developing and manufacturing products with new properties and corresponding added value, and acquiring customers for them who care as much about sustainability and implementing a circular economy as we do.
We mainly use materials such as polymers (plastics), esters, additives, color pigments, fillers and printing inks. Approximately 68 percent of which come from crude oil, natural gas, around 29 percent from solid mining waste and around 3 percent from renewable raw materials such as soy, corn or sugar cane. The recyclable materials generated during production are fed back into the production process wherever this is technically feasible.
Our target is to continue to increase the recyclate content in our products through innovation. We are also working on developing new products in which recyclates can be processed.
Where feasible and permitted by law, we want to replace fossil raw materials with biologically produced raw materials without the use of (fossil) oil and gas. In a strategic partnership with Photanol, we are developing “polymers out of air” for this purpose thanks to an innovation that follows nature’s example: photosynthesis.
By increasing the recyclate content in our products, we can simultaneously reduce emissions. In other areas of our business, from production and the administration of our company to mobility or logistics, we will also take action that leads to a reduction in emissions or uses renewable energies.
By further improving processes, we are trying to make even more efficient use of the materials used so that as little scrap as possible is produced. Currently, our specific material usage is 1.08 t per t of product. So for technical reasons, around 0.08 t per t of product is currently material left over during production. These recyclables are collected, sorted and fed into internal recycling. Our internal recycling rate of recyclables is around 54 percent (as of 2020). By 2025, we are committed to increasing this rate to 100 percent.
For transport packaging within Europe, too, we will only use plastic products that are either reusable or recyclable by 2025. In addition, 50 percent of the packaging material should consist of recycled or renewable raw materials.
In the overseas sector, we want to dispense with plastics as far as possible in the future in favor of sustainable packaging made of wood with cardboard repackaging that consists of 50 percent recycled or renewable raw materials.
In around 50 percent of applications, RENOLIT products are known for their durability. We want to increase this share through innovations, because the greatest CO2 savings can be achieved with long-term use. Another aspect that pays off in terms of sustainability is the fact that many of our plastic films and applications extend the service life of other products, thus enabling multiple uses. We will also take multiple use of our own products into account in innovations.
Collection and recycling
Recycling is the second best option for the environment to deal with plastic products because it conserves resources and can reduce carbon emissions. As a plastics manufacturer, we will see recycling as part of sustainable production and integrate it step-by-step into our processes.
We will equip our recycling center in Worms with three new plants to expand the production of recyclable material such as flakes, regranulate, and powder. As a result, in future we will be able to internally recycle some of the approximately 16.7 kt that we recycled externally in 2020 and also recyclables from ten customers.
The aim is to process the recyclate in new products as well as to continuously increase the recyclate content of our current products through innovations. This will improve the balance of our material consumption and greenhouse gas emissions even more.
In addition to recycling recyclables from our own and customers’ production, we are working to ensure that a portion of our products are collected after use, separated according to ingredients, sorted and recycled.
However, recycling is a major challenge at the end of a long life. We will increasingly address this issue in order to enable recyclables to be fed back into the production cycle of equivalent and new products.
Our customers also benefit from the fact that their products previously purchased from RENOLIT are becoming more “sustainable” through the incorporation of internally produced recyclate while maintaining the same proven quality.
Our voluntary commitment to the circular economy by 2025
As a member of the Circular Plastics Alliance (CPA), RENOLIT SE has made a commitment to the CPA to achieve the following targets:
Percent of the recyclables will be recycled internally and incorporated into new or existing products.
Kilotons of recyclables from production will be recycled internally by 2025.
Customer projects to take back recyclable materials will be integrated into the RENOLIT material cycle.
Percent recyclable or reusable plastic materials will be used in packaging.
Percent of recyclate or renewable raw materials will be used to make our packaging material.
What contribution do our products make to the circular economy today?
Today, RENOLIT already offers a range of polymer products that have a high recyclate content, are 100 percent recyclable or are partly made from renewable raw materials. To be able to evaluate the overall sustainability of a plastic product, its functions and properties play an important role in addition to the raw materials.
Our plastic films and other plastic products are characterized by their surface, design and function:
- They renew and refine other products,
- Protect them and extend their service life and/or
- Were developed to repair other products.
Initiatives and memberships on our path to the circular economy
RENOLIT participates in many initiatives by the plastics industry, which develops specific programs for a more conscious use of plastics. In addition, we enter into partnerships, for example, to develop non-fossil raw materials.
“Operation Clean Sweep” against plastic granules in the environment
Plastic granules are very small and can easily be lost or overlooked during transport or production. This should not happen, because they are the second most important cause of water pollution after microplastics. Operation Clean Sweep is an international granule loss prevention program. In Europe, the initiative was launched by PlasticsEurope in 2013.
As part of this initiative, we are helping to prevent plastic particles from entering the environment at our production sites in order to prevent soil and water pollution. All sites should support this initiative by 2025.
"Air“ – developing non-fossil polymers
In a strategic partnership with Photanol, we are working on the “Air” project to develop non-fossil polymers using CO2 absorbed from the air. This technology operates in a direct, fully circular and carbon-neutral conversion process without the use of fossil oil and gas. In this process, or conversion process, light and CO2 are used as raw materials and so-called monomers, the building blocks for polymers, are produced by photosynthesis of cyanobacteria with the emission of oxygen.
This innovative process is the perfect solution to help reduce global warming while reaping the benefits of new high-performance polymers, such as fully sustainable raw materials, better quality medical devices due to higher purity of raw materials, and a secure supply chain. In the long term, we plan to develop monomers not only for the needs of Healthcare, but also for our Group’s other applications.
Challenges and priorities on our path to a circular economy
Like any transformation, the shift from a linear to a circular economy is a highly complex task. Mastering it requires all the people who work for us, with whom we collaborate and for whom we manufacture our products to abandon old thought patterns in order to establish new processes – for a better future. In order to achieve the goals we have set ourselves, we have defined the following priorities:
1. Process optimization in production
As an internationally active company, we also have production sites around the world. In order to operate a circular economy in future, we must optimize, reorganize and harmonize our processes worldwide to be able to exploit synergies. This task is our top priority, which is why our Operational Excellence Team focuses just on this.
2. Use of the latest recycling technologies
We recycle residual materials at the point of origin wherever possible. In addition, we have been operating two large recycling centers in Worms and Sant Celoni, Spain, for several years where we recycle recyclables and residual materials from our production within the Group. To simplify recycling across all production sites, we are already working on harmonizing our formulas. In addition, we are constantly expanding our recycling capacities and also investing in completely new recycling technologies that are currently not available on the market yet.
Because unlike PET bottles, for example, which are made from a single raw material, RENOLIT films are more complex: they consist of several layers, are made of different plastic materials or contain additives that give them special properties, and are coated or firmly bonded to their substrates.
Various technologies are used to process these recyclables for recycling:
- Extraction technologies to dissolve plasticizers out of the films
- Separation technologies that separate the different polymers laminated together to form a composite film
- Solvent-based separation: in the case of coated products made of polypropylene (PP), the coating must be separated from the PP. Since coatings cannot be dissolved, the carrier material must be dissolved first and then precipitated.
However, not all raw materials can yet be recovered in this way: Due to the very long service life of some of our products from the construction sector, many of them consist of ingredients for which recycling processes on an industrial scale do not yet exist today. Products used for medical purposes must meet the highest legal requirements and may only be recycled to a limited extent. Last but not least, taking back used products is not only a logistical task, but also a challenging one in terms of separation by recyclable groups, which we will tackle together with our customers and partners.
3. Design of new sustainable products
Even at the design stage, it is a matter of taking durability, reparability, recyclability and the actual recyclate content of a product into account. A major task for us is to optimize our high-quality films for recycling later on.
However, we can only achieve the highest possible recycling rate of recyclates by adding new products to our portfolio.
Long-term target: to use more sustainable resources
The high quality of our products necessitates specific requirements in terms of the quality of the raw materials. We will only succeed in obtaining the highest possible quality secondary raw materials through innovation. Where compromises are necessary for ecological reasons, we will find them together with our customers.
We have already been able to significantly increase the recyclate content for some products. In 2020, our plant in Sant Celoni, Spain, incorporated a total of approximately 8,000 tons of recyclate into its products, representing 19.3% of the total material input. This rate is to be increased further.
- Global Footprint Network, Ecological Footprint Atlas 2010. The Global Footprint Network has developed a measure of our use of the Earth's resources. It measures how much land and water area a human population needs to produce the resources it consumes and absorb its waste. It covers energy, food, wood and waste.
Ecological Footprint Atlas 2010
- Circle Economy, Circularity Gap Report; Global 2021 Report, p. 5
- The UN Paris Climate Agreement was adopted in December 2015 and entered into force in November 2016. It included the following key points: Reducing the global temperature increase below well below 2 degrees and working to limit it to 1.5 degrees; committing to help poor countries reduce climate-damaging emissions and adapt to climate change; taking human rights into account in combating climate change; taking measures to improve resilience to climate change; committing industrialized countries to set concrete targets for reducing CO2 emissions; and increasing climate targets over time.
The Paris Agreement