Sustainability Report 2020

News & Stories

The future: secondary materials

That resources are finite is an old truth of which we are now aware with increasing urgency. Even in the 21st century, most natural resources that we use are primary raw materials. Demand for raw materials will continue to increase as a result of global population growth. In light of this, we will have to ask ourselves how we can either use resources more efficiently or increase our use of secondary raw materials. Secondary raw materials are not from natural sources – at least not directly. Instead, they are produced by reprocessing primary raw materials. This means that recycling gives us secondary raw materials and the more and the better we recycle, the more secondary raw materials we get.

Green plastic granulate (photo)

Above all, secondary raw materials are the better option because they have less of an environmental impact. The packaging sector is of particular interest when discussing secondary raw materials. Especially in the food industry, primary raw materials are used almost exclusively. The EU Commission has stipulated that all plastic packaging must be reusable or recyclable by 2030. Only if packaging is recyclable can the material be converted into secondary materials. Greiner Packaging has set even more ambitious targets: 100 percent of plastic packaging is to be 100 percent reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025. We have also made it our goal to use recycled materials in 10 percent of our packaging.

More secondary materials, fewer primary raw materials

Hospicycle – Turning hospital waste into valuable recycled materials

Our production of plastic packaging is particularly affected by the trend towards more recycled materials. Colleagues at Greiner Packaging are thus hard at work developing, testing and researching alternatives for the basic raw materials used at present to ensure a higher share of recycled materials in production. One specific example of our search for new solutions is our Hospicycle project. There are only slight differences in the materials used for consumables packaging (e.g. saline solutions, liquid food products) and laboratory equipment in hospitals (mostly PP/PE or PET). These products are rarely or never dyed and are instead always white/transparent and minimally decorated. Furthermore these materials are always food safe. These attributes mean that they would be perfect for recycled materials approved for food use from mechanical recycling. However, the main problem with this relates to collecting these in a medical setting.

As part of Hospicycle, the quantities of packaging waste and where this waste is generated are to be recorded. As well as assessing recyclability, would also like to develop a logistics concept. These results are to be transferred to additional hospitals and, if evaluation is successful, result in an application at the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). As well as Greiner, partners of this very ambitious project include the Plastics Cluster for Lower Austria, the Upper Austrian healthcare company Walter Kunststoffe and Altstoff Recycling Austria (ARA).

Our purchased materials can be grouped into five material groups and account for around 40 percent of the total purchasing volume. As well as raw materials, we also buy semi-finished and finished goods. We are currently working on improving the quality of data and want to include this in the next reporting cycle by 2023.

The development of our total material consumption shows a rapid rise in 2020. This reflects the Eurofoam takeover described above, which also explains the sharp increase in the share of chemicals in total materials consumption.

Some of our production processes require the use of chemicals which – if improperly used – can be harmful to human health. Use of these chemicals is strictly monitored and controlled by corresponding regulations. In Austria, ionized radiation is also used to sterilize our medical products. This is generated either by electron accelerators or, for high density products, by radioactive decay of the Cobalt-60 isotope. The use of ionized radiation in Austria is regulated under the Austrian Radiation Protection Act and the Austrian Radiation Protection Regulation. Authorities perform annual checks to monitor compliance with these regulations.

Proportion of secondary materials relative to total materials consumption1

 

 

2018

 

2019

 

2020

Greiner

 

8%

 

9%

 

7%

Greiner Bio-One

 

1%

 

1%

 

0%

Greiner Packaging

 

7%

 

7%

 

7%

NEVEON

 

27%

 

38%

 

7%

Greiner Extrusion

 

0%

 

0%

 

0%

1

Secondary materials (recycling materials) are created by reprocessing material that has been disposed of and can be reused multiple times as part of a material cycle. They make up the starting material for new products and differ from primary raw materials (extracted from nature).

Purchasing volume by material group

Purchasing volume by material group (pie chart)

Total material consumption1

Total materials consumption (pie chart)
1 Total materials consumption comprises all purchased raw materials and auxiliary materials that are directly used or consumed as part of production.

Foam production at NEVEON relies on the purchase of primary raw materials. Incorporating Eurofoam thus resulted in a lower proportion of secondary materials.

For the first time, our 2020 report contains emissions data from our value chain. The figure below shows Greiner’s total emissions (1,114,837 tonnes of CO2e) resulting from procurement of our raw materials. The high proportion of emissions in the foam division NEVEON is a result of the extensive use of chemicals.

Emissions generated by our production materials and consumables in 20201 (t CO2e)

Emissions generated by our production materials and consumables – 2020 (pie chart)
1 Figures include emissions generated in the production of our raw materials but not the emissions of semi-finished or finished goods that we purchase as a company. The calculation also does not include packaging materials. A detailed description of how our CO2 emissions are calculated can be found at the end of this report.

We have set the following targets here for the next two years:

  • By 2023: Improve the quality of data for Scope 3 emissions categories already reported in collaboration with our suppliers.
  • By 2023: Include data on packaging materials consumption and the emissions associated with this.
  • By 2023: Include data on all forestry raw materials used at Greiner: timber, cattle, palm oil, rubber, and soy.
  • By 2023: Expand data collection to include purchased semi-finished and finished goods.

Although the proportion of paper in our total materials consumption has declined slightly, our demand for paper still accounts for almost 10 percent – a substantial share. We have therefore decided that we will buy paper for secondary and tertiary packaging from FSC or equivalent certified paper sources by 2025.

Proportion of paper consumption relative to total materials consumption

Proportion of paper consumption relative to total materials consumption (bar chart)

More secondary materials, fewer primary raw materials

Pilot project: Closing the cycle for soup packaging

At Greiner Packaging, we have been testing various recycled materials for producing our cardboard/plastic packaging for some time now. As part of a test project for Unilever, for example, we use a certified circular polypropylene. Mixed post-consumer plastics that would otherwise be burned or sent to landfill are used as raw materials. The certified circular PP polymer from SABIC's TRUCIRCLE™ portfolio is broken down into its molecular components to create new plastics, including for recyclable tubs and lids. The project aims to produce about a million Knorr™ bouillon powder packages made from 100 percent circular polymers for Unilever. In doing so, we are demonstrating the progress that is possible with recycled materials in the food sector.

It also shows that we are achieving consistent advances in the development towards a circular economy in this industry, too. The ISCC-plus certified material provides a simple replacement solution for fossil-based plastics in the packaging industry without jeopardizing product purity or food safety. The packaging solution is suitable for powered foodstuffs, cereals, animal feed and various non-food uses. After use, consumers can simply remove the cardboard sleeve and dispose of the two pieces of packaging separately. Alternatively, the resealable and dishwasher-safe tub can also be used to store food after finishing the original contents, a popular and very sustainable practice both in private households and in restaurants. This means that we are not only using secondary materials for production, we are also creating a product with a far longer life cycle.

Solution in the form of renewable raw materials

Of course, our search for new materials also encompasses alternative sources. Examples of these include bio-based plastics and foam materials. Both of these are deemed bio-based if they are derived from renewable raw materials. What sounds like an attractive proposition – using renewable raw materials – needs to be looked at in more detail. The environmental impact need to be closely analyzed, even for bio-based raw materials. The debate over the harm caused by bio-based plastics shows how challenging it is to switch to sustainable raw materials.

Eduard Trache (NEVEON), Maintenance Technician (photo)

“Colleagues at NEVEON, for example, are using castor oil as a bio-based raw material: A renewable raw material accounts for about 20 percent of our EMC verde series product.”

Eduard Trache (NEVEON) Electromechanical Engineer 

Germany’s Federal Environmental Agency takes a critical view of bio-based materials: “From comparing the environmental footprint of simple objects and packaging we know that the effect on the environment is not significantly better when the raw materials are bio-based as opposed to fossil-based. Instead, the effects are simply different: Whereas traditional fossil-based plastics release more CO2 that affects the climate, the environmental footprint of bio-based plastics takes the form of higher potential acidification and euthropication and certain land requirements. This is because of the agricultural production of the raw materials. It may result in competing against food production for land or there may be fewer “compensation areas” and forests.” Nevertheless, we will leave no stone unturned. Colleagues at NEVEON, for example, are using castor oil as a bio-based raw material: A renewable raw material accounts for about 20 percent of our EMC verde series product. This is castor oil that comes directly from the plant and can be used without any additional processing. By contrast, other NOPs (natural oil polyols) that are based on soy, palm oil or rapeseed oil must be chemically modified before they can be used, a time-consuming process that massively reduces sustainability. As castor oil is not a foodstuff, it is also an ethical raw material for sustainable industrial use in terms of food safety.

Peter Fessl (Greiner Packaging), r-PET Business Manager (photo)

“Our numerous r-PET initiatives clearly show that an increased use of recycled materials is the future at Greiner Packaging.”

Peter Fessl (Greiner Packaging) r-PET Business Manager

More secondary materials, fewer primary raw materials

Milk packaging: High temperature stress test for recycled material

Although we have had some successes, producing packaging from recycled materials is a challenge for the food industry. Given the very high standards for the quality and purity of the materials and thus the packaging, this industry sector constitutes a particular challenge for us. The common plastic PET comes into play here as it is widespread and thus readily available for recycling. However, its material properties meant that there were limits to its use for dairy packaging until now. This is subject to special requirements on account of the high temperature sterilization needed (up to 120 degrees Celsius) that the material must withstand. By successfully testing the use of recycled PET (r-PET) for dairy product packaging, Greiner Packaging again demonstrated its materials expertise. r-PET is currently the only recycled material approved for food use, as other recycled plastics such as r-PS and r-PP are still in the testing or approval stages. The aim is for dairy factories not to have to make any changes to their bottling processes when using the recycled materials.

Here, Greiner Packaging is working intensively with dairy factories to find a solution, and it will be interesting to see what results further tests reveal. We are also focusing our efforts on securing an alternative to PET bottles, i.e. procuring other recycled material from different sources. For r-PET to be approved for food packaging, more than 95 percent of the material has to come from materials that have already been used in food applications. The use of recycled polyolefins is also permitted outside the food sector and the material is used primarily for plastic pallets. In collaboration with our customer and brand manufacturer Henkel, we have developed a packaging made out of 50 percent post-consumer PP waste. Not only do we use only plastic recycled materials here, we also use 40 percent less material than previous packaging. The World Packaging Organisation jury awarded this packaging innovation the Worldstar Global Packaging award in 2021.

CO2
The chemical notation for carbon dioxide, a key component of the global carbon cycle. It is a gas that is naturally present in the Earth’s atmosphere and absorbs and reflects some of the heat emitted from the planet. Human activity massively increases the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere, magnifying this greenhouse effect and resulting in global warming.
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Circular economy
The circular economy is a model for production and consumption where existing materials and products are shared, reused, repaired, reprocessed and recycled for as long as possible. This prolongs the life cycle of products.
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European Food Safety Authority
The European Union authority’s remit covers all areas related directly or indirectly to food and feed safety, including animal health and animal protection, plant protection and plant health, and nutrition. It was set up in 2002 following a series of food crises in Europe to be an independent source of scientific advice and communication on risks associated with the food chain.
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Life cycle
A basic model of the product life cycle defines five phases that a product passes through from market launch to eventual market exit: Introduction, growth, maturity, saturation and decline. The duration of a cycle depends largely on factors such as quality and the supplier’s innovation.
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Logistics
The job of logistics is to ensure the transport, storage, provision, procurement and distribution of goods, people, money, information and energy. This goes hand in hand with the need to manage and control all related tasks.
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PET
The abbreviation stands for polyethylene terephthalate. PET is a thermoplastic from the polyester family, produced by polycondensation, with a wide range of uses including the production of plastic bottles, films and textile fibers.
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Polyolefins
Polyolefins are made from oil and gas and are some of the most commonly used plastics thanks to their versatility. They are easy to process, have good chemical resistance and are an electrical insulator. Examples of use include films, bottles, food containers and food packaging.
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Primary raw materials
Primary raw materials are natural, unprocessed resources extracted from nature. They include wood, wool, crude oil, iron ore and coal (see also secondary raw materials).
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Secondary raw materials
Secondary raw materials are created by reprocessing primary raw materials. Secondary raw materials are produced through recycling and the use of natural resources can be decreased (see also primary raw materials).
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Sleeve
In the context of packaging, a sleeve is a thin piece of plastic used for decoration. The sleeve is attached to the packaging and heated to fit it to the specific shape. It is important that the sleeve and the product can be separated so that they can be recycled.
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Value chain
The value chain describes the steps along the production chain in order. These activities create value, consume resources and are interconnected in various processes.
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