Germany: Plastic Recycling Recyclability Starts at the Design Stage

Editor: Alexander Stark

Taking recyclability into account right from the very beginning of a product’s life cycle often is nothing but wishful thinking of plastics recyclers. A new research project of the Julius Maximilian University Würzburg, the Plastics Centre — SKZ and two partners from the Bavarian plastics industry is now working towards realizing this wish.

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Only 16 % of the plastic waste generated in Germany is recycled there.
Only 16 % of the plastic waste generated in Germany is recycled there.
(Source: CC0 / Pixabay )

Würzburg/Germany — Whether multi-layered food packaging, power cable sheathing or a toothbrush: Many plastic products cannot be recycled. This is the case, for example, when products are made of multiple materials that cannot be separated at all or only insufficiently. Only 16 % of plastic waste produced in Germany is also recycled here. This figure is quoted by the Plastikatlas 2019 published by the German Federation for the Environment and Nature Conservation (Bund) and the Heinrich Böll Foundation. The majority of plastic waste is thus burnt in waste incineration plants to generate energy or is used as alternative fuel.

Making more plastics recyclable: The Chair of Business Administration and Business Information Systems at Julius-Maximilians-Universität (JMU) Würzburg in Bavaria, Germany, has been working towards this goal since July 2019 together with the German Plastics Centre SKZ and two partners from the Bavarian plastics industry. Their project is funded by the Bavarian State Ministry for the Environment and Consumer Protection.

The partners aim at increasing the share of recyclable plastics by reducing the number of material components. The researchers focus on the product design stage because the recyclability aspect had largely been neglected by designers so far, says Jan Werner from the SKZ, a member of the Zuse society of independent research institutes. He wants to connect designers and recyclers, to avoid that materials are chosen that are very difficult to recycle.

Digital Platform Provides Information About Materials

The project now plans to bring together these two worlds. To achieve this, the scientists want to create a software platform which provides information on the recyclability of different plastics and material combinations. This will enable designers to weigh criteria such as functionality, resource efficiency and recyclability against each other and choose better materials based on this.

A JMU team around Norman Pytel and Professor Axel Winkelmann is in charge of creating this platform. They want to provide digital tools for product developers to help them make better material choices – with the aim of increasing the recyclability of plastic products.

The DIMOP project deals with digital multi-criteria material selection to optimise the recyclability of plastic materials. It is funded by the Free State of Bavaria within the scope of Forcycle II, a collaborative project for more resource efficiency in the Bavarian economy, especially in SMEs and handicraft businesses. The project was kicked off in July 2019 and is set to run for three years.