Jannick Sercu (Galloo Group): “It really is possible to go from ELVs to valuable plastics”
Enthusiasm is high at Galloo Group, a recycling firm with over 40 establishments in France, Belgium and the Netherlands. They are keen on helping the EU to achieve its targets for the reuse of plastics by 2025. Around 10 million tons of plastics in recycled form will have to be processed into new products by then. The group has its own plastic recycling company in the city of Halluin in northern France, Galloo Plastics. This is where they have been separating and putting together plastics for the car industry for over twenty years. It now handles around 50,000 tons each year. Galloo Plastics does this in its own way, stressed its Marketing Director, Jannick Sercu: “Dismantling provides us with a good, clean waste flow of plastics. While it is possible to separate the waste flow, it is not economically viable to work this way in Europe. That is why we opt for the shredder and then separate it.” Over half of the plastics that arrive at Galloo Plastics come from ELVs.
Galloo Plastics is able to produce four types of polymers (compounds made up of chains of the same molecules, ed.) from its shredder waste flow, including through the use of dry and liquid separation, and depending on how clean they are:
- Polypropylene (PP) is reused for car parts, such as wheel arch liners and bumpers.
- Polyethylene (PE) is reused for things such as plastic pipes and waste containers.
- Polystyrene (PS) is reused for things such as CD boxes and clothes hangers.
- Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) is re-used for things such as the plastic feet on step ladders.
To keep the quality of the plastic high and prevent excess levels of Substances of Very High Concern (such as the flame retardant decaBDE) from entering the plastic, Galloo uses plastics from other sources. For instance, they mix virgin material, primarily extracted, with recycled plastic. They do everything to obtain the best quality and they constantly check the plastics. The plastic recycling techniques used by Galloo Plastics are mainly homespun innovations. They also sell their technology to other companies. By doing this, Galloo Plastics wants to serve as an inspiration to others. Sercu: “It really is possible to go from ELVs to valuable plastics.”
Klaus Hauschulte (Scholz): “It is often cheaper to dump plastic on a waste heap or burn it than to recycle the material”
Dr. Klaus Hauschulte from Scholz, a large metal recycling firm with 200 recycling facilities across the world, pointed out that almost a third of a car will no longer have any value to recycling companies by 2030 as this will consist of plastics. He charges zero euro for these. It is residual waste, as they say. “We don’t have any customers for this and furthermore there is no use for it.” He pointed out that it is often cheaper at the moment to dump plastic on a waste heap or burn it than to recycle the material. In Hauschulte’s view, there is a gap between the economic feasibility for the recycling sector and what politicians in Europe see as an ideal starting point. In other words, if politicians get their way, it will put pressure on the profitability of recycling materials.
However, Hauschulte, who wrote his PhD on cost-effective product development, does have an idea about how the issue can be solved – industry should be pushed towards recyclability. “Car manufacturers should not only be judged by the emission of their cars. Recyclability should be the most important thing. This can be achieved through sustainable eco-design and the contribution for effective recycling methods.” In the same way as safety is currently held as a strict basic requirement, recyclability should also be a requirement. For sustainable eco-design, we should look at the suppliers of the products in a car. After all, car manufacturers largely assemble their cars using products from third parties.
“Car manufacturers should not only be judged by the emission of their cars. Recyclability should be the most important thing”
Furthermore, Hauschulte thinks that car manufacturers could reduce their development costs by getting recycling companies to contribute ideas on the development of products and materials. For instance, Scholz will be working in this area in the future with BMW, though Hauschulte does not want to say much about this yet. He also believes that recycling companies should think ahead. The best way to do this would be to sit around the table with engine manufacturers. By improving current technologies, they will be able to work more innovatively.
Julien Van Damme (Honda Motor Europe): “Laws and regulations hamper the use of recycled materials”
Julien Van Damme, Recycling Manager at Honda Motor Europe, argues that plastic recycling has not stood still over recent years. The techniques have become so good that recycled plastics are comparable to newly manufactured materials. In his view, the problem is that laws and regulations with a positive leaning hamper the use of recycled plastics.
You can read more about the maze of laws and regulations in our article about how well do the rules and directives in the car recycling and dismantling sector correlate?
Policymakers take the view that the presence of chemicals, primarily flame retardants, would make reuse irresponsible. Van Damme calls this attitude in Europe as a waste of valuable materials. The car and recycling industry fears that the European legislators and regulators are making the threshold values so stringent for flame retardants, which contain bromine and are frequently found in plastics derived from ELVs, that ambitions for recycling substantially more plastics will become unfeasible. “A decision in this direction would be devastating for the recycling objectives of ELVs, but also for the recycling objectives for end-of-life electrical and electronic devices which have been adopted within the EU.” According to Van Damme, a politically satisfying solution cannot be easily found for flame retardants in plastics. This is also because it is not yet possible to reliably measure lower levels of these substances on an industrial scale. Technically speaking, it is possible to recycle around two-thirds of all plastic that is currently used in cars and electronics. That would be over 5.3 million tonnes from a total of 8 million tonnes of plastics. It is considerably more than the meagre 3 million tonnes that are currently recycled in total. Furthermore, this takes into account all types of plastics.
Around two-thirds of all plastics in cars and electronics would be suitable for recycling
A lot still needs to be done before greater amounts of plastics from ELVs can be recycled, that much is clear. Although EuRIC (the European Recycling Industries’ Confederation) is calling for a limit on flame retardants of 1,000 ppm (1,000 mg/kg), the European Parlement voted at the beginning of this year for a threshold value of only 10 mg/kg (or 10 ppm). That is the gaping hole between economic feasibility for the recycling sector and political feasibility. Circles in both Brussels, and car manufacturers and the recycling sector have not yet given their final word on this.
Volvo and plastics
The fact the plastic recycling is becoming more popular can also be seen in Volvo’s plans. The company wants at least a quarter of the plastic used in every Volvo to be recycled plastic by 2025. That involves a substantial number of kilos, as around 16 to 17 per cent of a Volvo is currently made from polymers. The greatest challenge for Volvo at the moment is finding sufficient quantities of suitable plastic. Volvo has also stated that some plastics are rather difficult to recycle. The Swedish company wants to solve this by substituting plastics with other materials. Volvo is also doing a lot of research into this. Nevertheless, Volvo is determined to achieve the targets it has set itself. Volvo recently built a test car with 170 parts (around 60 kg) made from different recycled plastics.
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