Since the end of last year, the BKV has had a new managing director, namely Dr. Ingo Sartorius. Prior to this, Sartorius spent more than 25 years at Germany’s association of plastics producers, PlasticsEurope Deutschland, where he headed the “Man and the Environment” division (today: Climate Protection and Circular Economy). In this function, he also dealt with topics such as marine litter and plastics and the environment. In this interview, we ask him about the subject of plastics in the environment and the planned BKV projects dealing with this issue.
Dr. Sartorius, on 1 December last year, you took over as Managing Director of the BKV. This means you are also responsible for the project work at the BKV. One of the main topics there is that of plastics in the environment. You were already involved with this issue in your previous function at PlasticsEurope Deutschland. Can you briefly describe your underlying position on the subject of plastics in the environment?
The position of the plastics industry on the subject of plastics in the environment is absolutely clear: No plastic and no consumer product or waste must get uncontrolled into the environment or the seas. For this reason, it is essential to avoid littering. The most effective way to do this is therefore to ensure proper documentation and efficient recycling or reuse of the consumer waste. The BKV provides above all the technical basis with data and facts. Its shareholders, on behalf of whom the BKV operates, cover the whole breadth of the plastics industry, in other words, in equal measure, the plastics producers, the plastics processors and the plastics machinery makers.
On behalf of the BKV and with the support of the associations of the plastics industry in Germany and Austria, a very unique model has been drawn up that deals with the discharge pathways of land-sourced plastic waste into the seas, enabling the discharged quantities to be estimated. The "From Land to Sea" model includes both the European river basin districts and the coastal areas – so-called NUTS regions – according to the established European statistics, giving the model a high level of acceptance in administration and science. This is not least also because the model of the discharge pathways with both regional and federal authorities was reflected with regard to its practical relevance. The model of the discharge pathways is being constantly further developed and supplemented with modules of certain sub-topics.
In the first practical application of the "From Land to Sea" model, we estimated the land-sourced discharges from Germany into the North Sea, Baltic Sea and Black Sea. This can also be applied in principle to other regions and countries. Our model is meeting with increasing attention not only in the technical world, but has also found its way into international standardisation, namely in the Technical Report ISO/TR 21960. That is important because standardisation work is essentially about achieving, through international standards, a uniform, comparable and reliable methodology and finally also obtaining a database. That is also the reason why the BKV is involved in the industrial standards committee for plastics as part of the German Institute for Standardisation (DIN).
On the basis of both the presented model of the discharge pathways and also the material flow analysis of plastics in Germany, the BKV recently succeeded, with a further study on "Plastics in the Environment", in establishing an important link. In this way, it is possible to draw up an estimate of the final whereabouts of polymer materials – apart from plastic materials, also tyre abrasion, paints, fibres etc. – in the aquatic and terrestrial environment. One of the most important results to emerge from this is that plastics that get into the environment can also be subsequently sent for proper waste management. In fact, this applies to about half the total polymer material discharged into the environment.
Basically, however, it is necessary to ensure that plastics do not land in the environment at all. For this reason, it is of major importance that the BKV should continue its projects in the field of circular economy and recycling technologies. Here, we are planning a number of projects in which interested backers are expressly welcome.
What projects are to be expected in the near future as a contribution from the BKV to solving the problem?
In the field of plastics in the environment, the conclusion of a deeper study of pellet losses in plastics production and plastics processing is due shortly. As a result, our "From Land to Sea" model and the "Plastics in the Environment" study will be further extended and refined.
In the other previously mentioned topics of circular economy and recycling technologies, we expect fairly soon the completion of a study focused on encouraging the use of recyclate. Apart from that, we are working on an analysis of the recycling potential of plastics from packaging and also from other sectors. Finally, the BKV is involved in the further technological development of recycling processes, including supplementary chemical processes, which will, in combination with the established and proven mechanical processes, effectively drive the circular economy forward. This research work is still at the beginning, and requires intensive cooperation between numerous players from industry, administration and science. The BKV has succeeded in linking into state funding from the Federal Research Ministry and thus obtaining a comparatively comprehensive project framework.
Plastic waste in the environment is massively damaging the image of the material. The plastics industry has initiated various measures to reduce discharges. Are these adequate or should, in your opinion, more be done?
The key is basically to what extent end-user products and waste are properly dealt with. For this reason, the answer is: yes, more needs to be done. The contributions from the plastics industry alone will not be sufficient, even though we, with our studies and projects, network the whole plastics industry across its entire width with producers, processors and plastics machinery makers. In addition, the BKV and bvse created an informal dialogue group over ten years ago in order to advise on major issues connected with the circular economy and plastics recycling in an exchange with recycling companies. This has led to important cooperation arrangements. One example is the material flow analysis for plastics in Germany which appears every two years.
Over and above this, it is necessary that the entire industry in the value chain works closely together. Here, there are some important approaches in which the BKV provides active support. One example is the Chemistry-for-Climate project headed by the VCI and VDI, which aims to contribute to climate-neutral production through a circular economy by the year 2045.
Alongside purely industrial projects and industry cooperation arrangements, it is important above all that the key players of society such as administration, science, and trade unions, right through to non-governmental organisations, are involved in the dialogue and that they work together on finding solutions. As part of its profile of providing basic facts, the BKV supports in particular the implementation at federal state level. For example, the BKV is involved in working groups of the eighth Lower Saxony Government Commission. The relevant studies should be completed by the summer of this year. In addition, the BKV is a member of the Round Table on Marine Litter, which was established by the Federal Environment Ministry, Federal Environment Office and the Environment Ministry of Lower Saxony. The MicBin project, which is also headed by the BKV and funded by the Federal Research Ministry, is another example of the cooperation agreements, also involving science and research.