Every German produces at least 100 kg of plastic waste every year through private consumption alone. According to a report by the German Ministry for the Environment, Germany generated 18.7 million tons of packaging waste in 2017, corresponding to more than 225 kilograms per capita. The Packaging Act that came into force in early 2019 is aimed at reducing this and improving the recyclability of packaging. Plastic packaging will now have to be directed to recycling to at least 58.5 per cent of the resources. The rate will rise to 63 per cent from 2022.
Dave Hakkens: Create a global community of recyclers
Alongside avoiding the generation of refuse, the main thing is recycling. Since early 2019, Precious Plastic Hamburg, a civil society initiative and student working group from the Hamburg University of Technology (TUHH), which has constructed its own recycling plant, has devoted itself to this. Ideas and plans derive from the Dutch designer Dave Hakkens, who has set himself the target of creating a global community of recyclers. The plant he has developed is easy to construct and operate and fits into a single container. This means that anyone in the world can recycle plastic to make new products and start their own small business.
Precious Plastic plant consists of three machines
The suburb of Harburg now has a Precious Plastic plant consisting of three machines – a shredder that turns plastic waste into small flakes and two other machines able to make new things from the flakes – from bookends through buckets and bowls up to coasters. Florian Lehmkuhl has been there from the outset. The 29-year-old Master’s student of Produktentwicklung, Werkstoffe und Produktion at the TUHH aims to increase his understanding of recycling processes. “Precious Plastic Hamburg will not be able to save the world all on its own. But if we are able to take forward our knowledge on graduation into the major companies, we will be able to change things from the inside.”
Bringing business, schools and individuals on board
The dissemination of knowledge for this reason lies at the core for Precious Plastic Hamburg, alongside building up a small Product Production. “We offer workshops, aiming at both companies, as well as schools and individuals, among whom we would like to raise awareness about the advantages of recycling,” Lehmkuhl says. There is already a co-operation with Rauhen Haus, a local soap manufacturer, and under the auspices of Hamburg räumt auf, a campaign launched by the Hamburg municipal cleaning authority, the Precious Plastic team went into the Schule Grumbrechtstraße, to introduce primary school pupils to the mysteries of plastic recycling.
Avoid black plastic at all costs
The issue is very complex, as Lehmkuhl is aware. Plastic is not simply plastic. “There are many different kinds of varying chemical composition that may not be mixed up together during recycling.” That means laborious sorting into type and colour before the recycling can begin. “The pigments contained in plastic are only soluble with great difficulty and different colours, when mixed, yield – grey,” Lehmkuhl says. And black plastic has poor recoverability, as it is simply not seen by the sensors in the large recycling plants, ending up being incinerated instead. So, when considering your next purchase, you could make a choice on grounds of colour – and thus make a contribution in a very simple way to boosting the recycling rate.
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