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Bottle-to-bottle wave rolls in

There seems to be no lack of investment when it comes to the expansion of plastics recycling capacity. Time and again, a new plant using smart and costly technology pops up, sometimes in places you would least expect. One interesting project is a new facility operated by Turkish recycler Burkasan.

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Located in Bursa, a city with a population of three million south of Istanbul, the plant started up mid 2020 and handles mainly PET bottles.

Burkasan invested 50 million Turkish Lira (EUR 5 million) in a sorting line which technology expert Tomra installed using mechanical and optical processes. Tomra’s Autosort and Autosort Flake solutions can handle five tonnes of plastic scrap per hour, including PET, HDPE, and PP, which are processed into PET flakes and HDPE granules.

The technology enables Burkasan to achieve a purity level of 99% ‘allowing us to offer our products to major global companies,’ says board chairman Vedat Kiliç.

High goals, some hurdles

Burkasan claims to be a frontrunner when it comes to innovation. ‘We were the first in Turkey to launch a solution for used refrigerators,’ says Kiliç. ‘Now we are leading the way once again in the area of recycling plastics. Our plant will be the first to make plastic bottles out of plastic waste.’

At full capacity, the Bursa facility can process 2 500 tonnes of plastics per month to obtain some 1 500 tonnes of high purity PET flakes and HDPE granules. ‘At the moment, we are focusing on HDPE granulates and PET flakes but our target is to make an additional investment to produce PET granulates,’ says Kiliç.

‘In the next stage, we plan to achieve bottle-to-bottle recovery. If the Turkish Food Codex gives permission, we’ll start production of raw materials for making PET bottles that can also be used in the beverage sector.’

Big steps in Denmark

Meanwhile capacity has also been ramped up at Dansk Retursystem, a non-profit company owned by Danish breweries. The company has recently commissioned a new beverage packaging sorting plant, designed and built by Stadler.

With a capacity of 110 m3 per hour, it can handle 55% of Denmark’s recycled cans and PET bottles. It processes more than 25 000 tonnes of material annually, operating 16 hours per day across two shifts for 300 days a year.

Bottles and cans are collected from reverse vending machines at 3 000 retailers, shops, offices, cafés and restaurants across the country and from deposit return banks in 12 cities. Nine out of ten bottles marked for deposit are returned and recycled.

Bottles and cans  

For sorting solutions specialist Stadler, this is the biggest line the company has ever designed and built. Assembly started in November 2019. The facility uses magnetic separation to sort aluminium cans and eject ferrous materials, and uses near infrared (NIR) technology for PET bottles.

The removal of loose labels is also part of the process. At the end of the process, balers compact cans on one output line and bottles on the other.

According to joint project manager Armin Winand, the line presented particular challenges due to the high level of automation. ‘This is a fully automated sorting plant with a high throughput. We addressed this at various stages of the process with extra-large intermediate bunkers with capacity up to 240m³ and a similar capacity bunker conveyor that is 20 metres long, four metres wide and four metres high. At the end of the process, the aluminium and PET bales are transported automatically into the storage area.’

Sourcing Southern California

Several major bottle-to-bottle facilities have been launched in North America in the past two years. One that stands out is the rPlanet Earth facility in Los Angeles, opened in 2018 as a ‘one-of-a-kind’ integrated PET bottle and food packaging recycling plant. Total investment: US$ 100 million (EUR 90 million).

A 28 000 m2 state-of-the-art site, rPlanet Earth is seen as a major boost for plastics recycling in Southern California. With nearly 40 million people, the state is home to more than 10% of the US population, more than half of whom live in the greater LA area.

‘This means there is high consumption and big scrap volumes,’ explains company founder and ceo Bob Daviduk. ‘Everything we process here is sourced in southern California. California also has good state collection systems and laws which of course help develop a proper recycling infrastructure.’

What comes in at the gate as crushed and baled PET bottles and other plastic packaging scrap, goes out as 100% recycled, new bottle preforms, extruded sheet and thermoform packaging.

More capacity needed

At full capacity the facility can process 38 000 tonnes of plastic scrap a year. In 2019, 8 200 tonnes of plastic was recycled while the total volume of scrap-based plastic packaging produced at rPlanet Earth during that year hit 4 200 tonnes. The company wants to recycle 40 000 tonnes of plastic annually by 2025. There remains a huge PET recycling potential waiting to be explored. Each year, in the USA alone, some 2.8 million tonnes of PET is produced, of which only 29% is collected. Daviduk says only 150 000 tonnes, or less than 20% of the…

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