"Recyclate packaging should be standard in the non-food sector"
In the packaging industry, Jokey is regarded as a pioneer in sustainable packaging. Its expertise in plastic injection moulding is based on over 50 years of research, development and experience. The Jokey Eco Concept meets the high demands for recyclability, functionality and sustainable design. Jens Stadter, CEO of the Jokey Group, explains in an interview why this can drive forward the circular economy and why grey is the new green.
1 Plastic and sustainability are often understood as opposites. What is your response to the criticism that plastics processors are environmentally irresponsible?
In our view, plastic and sustainability are not a contradiction in terms. The Jokey Eco Concept shows how the two come together. It contains our sustainability programme, points the way to climate-neutral packaging, and also describes where we are already assuming product responsibility far beyond manufacturing today.
As one of the leading manufacturers of plastic packaging with 15 production sites in 12 countries, we take on a special responsibility. Like other plastics processors, we are subject to critical public perception. But simply branding plastic as harmful to the environment is neither doing justice to the topic nor to the versatile material. Plastic packaging performs indispensable services in reliably supplying a growing world population. It goes without saying that packaging does not belong in the environment or in the oceans after use. Everyone along the entire value chain has a responsibility here - not just the plastics processors.
Wherever possible, we advocate the return of packaging to the recycling cycle - worldwide. With our expertise, we try to stimulate a differentiated discussion with factual arguments and verified facts. After all, plastic is a valuable resource - careful handling is a task for society as a whole.
2 Packaging with recycled content from the yellow bin has long been part of Jokey's product range, but there has been little demand for it up to now. Are the paint buckets with recycled content now being snatched out of your hands?
Unfortunately, we are not there yet, but the topic has clearly gathered pace. In fact, Jokey has had packaging made from post-consumer recyclates, PCR, sourced from household collections, in its range since 1991. Even then, we would have liked to convince our customers that paints, construction materials, chemicals and other non-food products are just as safe and well packaged in recyclate buckets as in virgin plastics. Unfortunately, this was not accepted 30 years ago. Otherwise, the circular economy could have been made much more progress by now. We are continuously driving the issue forward in discussions with customers, partners and industry associations, and, by the way, also with targeted recyclate campaigns such as „Grey is the New Green".
Fortunately, our production is becoming increasingly grey! By using recyclate buckets, our non-food customers are indicating that they are consistently pursuing their sustainability strategy. Not least the Fridays for Future movement has significantly increased ecological awareness in society. Many of our customers offer environmentally friendly products and find packaging solutions from us that optimally meet their sustainability requirements, as well as those of their end customers. By using recycled packaging, they not only strengthen the circular economy, but also their green image.
3 In your opinion, what are the most important adjusting screws for increasing the use of recycled materials?
In terms of product technology, we can implement a PCR usage rate for our buckets and injected hollow bodies at any time - between 30 and 80 %, depending on requirements. Technically, material compositions with up to 100 % recycled material are also possible. However, the quality deficit of PCR from the input stream of the dual systems compared to virgin plastics is around 10 to 15 %; we generally compensate this with our own post-industrial recyclates, PIR.
Targeted public relations work is an important adjusting screw. We need pioneers who show that they are taking responsibility for packaging by using recyclate containers. Too few decision-makers still act out of a sense of responsibility that they have to make an ecological contribution. Recycled packaging must be perceived as attractive and sensible. This applies to manufacturers and end consumers.
And then there are the steering instruments of politics. German and European policy also emphasizes the need for increased use of recyclates to promote the circular Economy. However, a statutory PCR quota could lead to market distortions or to material developments that are rather critical from an ecological and qualitative point of view. Therefore, we favour bonus systems such as tax incentives or CO2 pricing that could support companies in their idealistic efforts and thus accelerate the substitution of virgin plastics by secondary raw materials.
4 Where do you get the recycled material you use?
The recyclate raw materials we use are post-consumer recyclates (PCR) from household and commercial recycling collections, such as the yellow bin, or waste streams from trade and catering. Before they go into production, they are subjected to stringent laboratory tests as part of our quality management system. Of course, the market for PCR is growing as recyclates are used for packaging and other plastic products. But this is also accompanied by an increase in quality.
In addition to post-consumer recyclates, we, of course, also use all our own production waste and combine it with our PCR formulations. By the way, these have been completely recycled back into our own raw material cycle since our beginnings. In addition, we also use special recyclates such as Ocean Based Recycled Plastics (OBRP). Jokey is a partner of the initiative Waste Free Oceans and also develops packaging with components made from high-quality OBRP. These originate from post-use input streams from the maritime industry.
The collection of old fishing nets or rigid plastic waste prevents them from being dumped wildly in the ocean. We produced such sea-blue containers with 25 % OBRP and 75 % PCR for the first time in 2019 and labelled them with the printed appeal "Keep nature clean". We have used these RAL-certified packaging buckets as waste collection containers at schools. And one of our customers, a major paint manufacturer, offers its environmentally friendly interior paints in containers made from 50 % PCR and 25 % OBRP.
5 Recyclate packaging solutions from mechanical recycling are currently only applicable for the non-food sector. When will we see these for food packaging as well?
Let me briefly discuss possible packaging material alternatives to virgin plastics: we take a thoroughly critical view of these. We have been working on the substitution of fossil raw materials for years and are investigating a wide variety of approaches to alternative raw materials. At present, we cannot find a solution that offers anywhere near the same versatility, material efficiency and technical performance in recycling systems that we believe polypropylene does. If we replace PP with alternatives, we need significantly more resources for the same technical performance, or we cannot achieve the technical specification in the first place. The use of alternative biomass raw materials in particular also has serious ecological disadvantages: the consequence of agricultural monocultures and their large-scale cultivation with pesticides is declining biodiversity. The immense consumption of virgin fibers for packaging contributes to global forest destruction. All of this motivates us to continue to rely on PP as a material for our products while pushing for urgently needed waste infrastructure and recycling capacity. Nevertheless, we are continuously working to improve our products - true to the old saying „Better is the enemy of good"; nor do we fundamentally reject alternative raw materials. But it is important to us to take a comprehensive and objective view of the use of our raw materials, from extraction or cultivation to recycling. For the sustainable procurement of renewable raw materials, this means that their origin must be traceable by means of certification.
6 Grey is the new green is one of your slogans referring to the change in appearance when recycled materials are used. Is this more of a problem in the marketing departments or with the consumer?
30 years ago, it was obviously a problem. Back then, grey packaging still had a boring eco-image attached to it. Today, it is the other way around: grey packaging stands for the circular economy. So grey is the new green! When recyclate packaging solutions can be found throughout store shelves, it is a clear statement: this is what recyclable packaging looks like! Of course, this must be accompanied by communication: grey is not a deficit, but a clear commitment. Those who value sustainability can easily identify the appropriate packaging at the point of sale thanks to the grey colour and thus consciously make an ecologically motivated purchase decision. This also appeals to new customers. However, the grey colour alone is not enough for a green image. The PCR content of sustainable packaging must also be verifiable. Quality marks such as the RAL quality mark "% recycled plastic" show how much recyclate the packaging contains and where it comes from. Incidentally, the technically determined grey base colour of the PCR containers can be decorated on the outside using the in-mould labelling process in exactly the same way as, for example, the bucket made of white virgin material, except for the rim..
7 Design for recycling is important for circularity. Do you have an example for us?
Only sustainable design makes packaging recyclable. This ranges from the material to the complete residual emptiability of a package. For optimum recycling results, we focus on material homogeneity and only use plastics and decorations that are 100% technically recyclable. We manufacture our packaging from polyolefins, mainly polypropylene. It makes an excellent packaging material and is perfectly suitable for material recycling. It can be reused from recyclable material collections for the production of new packaging in our plants. Ideal for the circular economy!
8 What expectations do you have of policymakers in the transformation of the plastics industry into a circular economy? And where is your industry more challenged?
The circular economy is a global mega-trend. A change in mind-set has set in among the public, political decision-makers and large sections of industry. And yet, in view of rapidly diminishing resources, there is still a great need for action. The European strategy for plastics in the circular economy provides a policy framework and is leading the way. But we also need to take other countries around the world with us, where the focus is often on social problems. These countries usually lack not only waste management, but, above all, the political will. For years, Jokey has been working together with global initiatives to promote the development of collection systems with the goal of a circular economy in cooperation with responsible stakeholders from industry, trade and politics. Legal regulations fail to achieve their steering effect if they are not accompanied by differentiated communication. That is why we would like to see more exchange between experts - including politics and business. We should all continuously pass on our knowledge to consumers and not lose sight of the overall view of the issue. Politicians sometimes run the risk of sending out wrong signals. Not all plastics are the same. And a yellow bin used for recycling alone will not create a circular economy. This cannot be achieved without increased use of recyclate packaging solutions. Therefore, our vision is to make grey recyclate packaging solutions the standard in the non-food sector as quickly as possible. We need more grey for more green!
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