Mark Ruesink, Production & Innovation director at Morssinkhof Plastics, sees the high quality recycling of fossil polymers such as PET, PE and PP as an effective method for bringing materials and the accompanying CO2 into a cycle. ‘We just don’t do it enough. In Europe, a little more than half of the PET bottles are recycled, while the rest end up in landfill or are incinerated (Source: EUPR, Plastic Recyclers Europe). The fossil raw materials are lost forever that way.’ That is not for want of trying by Morssinkhof. At seven production locations in the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and Poland the company processes no less than 225,000 tonnes of plastic every year, mainly the above voluminous streams. Rymoplast specialises in PE while Morssinkhof concentrates on HDPE, PET, PP and PS. The company is able to recycle PET bottle-to-bottle: food grade recycling for all the large brand owners in Europe.
Machines up and running again
Morssinkhof Sustainable Products is the third member in the holding company Morssinkhof Rymoplast Group, alongside Morssinkhof and Rymoplast. This activity focuses on the production of more sustainable products, starting with industrial yarns. It does this using the spinning machines which date back to the Diolen era. Diolen arose from the former Akzo Nobel Fibers & Polymers division, but closed its doors in 2008. At the time it could no longer compete with Asian companies. Since 2008 Morssinkhof has been using the upper floors of the former Diolen building at the Emmtec site for the post condensation of PET granules. It also dries them and makes them food grade there. Production and the pilot spinning machines are on the lower floor. The company has now revived the well-preserved machines. It has also developed new types of so-called high tenacity yarns for the B2B market.
‘Examples are lashing straps, conveyor belts and suchlike. In this market we are aiming at niche applications: yarns in small volumes which combine specific added properties (editor’s note: for example, colour, fire resistance). This is definitely a highly price-sensitive and conservative market, where clients will not willingly switch to an alternative based on recycled polymer. The ‘killer deals’ from the Far East are still the most sought after. Another obstacle is that ‘new’ materials (editor’s note: based on recycled polymer) have to be tested again, which involves extra costs. Industrial yarns will offer competitive prices in the long term, definitely once the location in Emmen can produce more volume,’ according to Ruesink.
He emphasises that Morssinkhof is still in the early stage of the process. The staff start up the machines every so often for an initial order. There is no question yet of continuous utilisation. ‘But we do not have to go from zero to one hundred,’ according to Ruesink. ‘We have the process properly under control now, and that is an essential step. Next, we have to have a good look at the right product-market combinations. As we said before, the B2B market is anything but easy. But we also notice that especially brand owners, like car manufacturers and retailers, are increasingly making their products and processes more sustainable. This also has consequences for the suppliers of these players. All of a sudden a car safety belt made from PLA, for example, does become interesting, despite it being much more expensive than polyester.’ Another option is to spin thinner (textile) yarns or (BCF) carpet yarns based on rPET. That brings totally different applications into the picture, according to Ruesink. ‘In that case, we could take the step towards the consumer market: shower curtains, carpets, mats etcetera. These products are often reinforced with polyester yarns.’
The IKEA link
Stenden University of Applied Sciences, the Faserinstitut Bremen, Senbis Polymer Innovations and Cumapol among others are participating in the project Sustainable Fibers, in which Morssinkhof is investigating whether it can develop markets for low titre yarns and BCF yarns. ‘We cannot produce these yarns ourselves in Emmen yet. We could invest in new machines, but we would first have to have a view of the market volumes. Would we be able to compete at cost price? No, not in all cases, but it is possible for the price-quality ratio as well as short lines to our customers in Western Europe. Our rPET has a very good reputation in the market and Asian recyclers are not known for good, consistent quality. When it comes to a step towards the market, then Morssinkhof has a ‘stepping stone’ at any rate. At the start of this year, IKEA acquired a minority interest (editor’s note: 15 percent) in the company. The Swedish multinational considers the participation as a strategic move to get a better grip on the plastics supply chain. IKEA ultimately wants to produce only recycled materials. Ruesink: ‘It certainly opens doors. It does not mean that we will receive orders straight away, but we are in the front ranks.’