Circular economy—a matter close to our heart

Leonhard Kurz Stiftung & Co.KG
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Circular economy—a matter close to our heart

At KURZ, sustainable management is not just a marketing gimmick but a matter of conviction close to our hearts. Our success is due to a great deal of dedication and commitment to staff and capital as we pursue this conviction. With this in mind, we created RECOSYS®, the world’s only system for the return of PET residues from stamping transfer applications—a true pioneering achievement and a milestone in a market that is just beginning to tackle issues such as the circular economy. RECOSYS has what it takes to create a true circular economy in the PET sector. Behind it is a long (development) history, which had to overcome many technical hurdles. Ralph Hopfensitz and Dr. Markus von Beyer accompanied this development right from day one.

Rapid development

RECOSYS® took around three years to develop, although the fundamental idea of a circular economy in the PET segment is much older. As early as 2010, KURZ launched a film return program and offered customers the option to return the carrier material and have it disposed of properly. It turned out, however, that the graphic industry was just not ready for this concept back then, as most customers were reluctant to send their films back and the program was hardly used. Even at the beginning of the further development in 2018, KURZ was completely uncertain whether customers would accept the new process. But these concerns proved to be unfounded—because with RECOSYS, KURZ hit the industry’s most painful nerve: the effective and sustainable disposal as well as the material recycling of the carrier material. 

Co-designed by practitioners

Read our two interviews with RECOSYS pilot users, the Edelmann Group and GRÄFE Druckveredelung GmbH, to find out how much the issue concerns processors. KURZ is of course very passionate about PET recycling too—after all, it ties in with the company’s commitment to sustainable management, driven by the Kurz family itself. Ralph Hopfensitz recalls the management’s decision which set the course for the development of RECOSYS: “The triggering moment for this was when the management decided during a closed meeting in 2018 to focus even more intensively than before on the issues of sustainability, recycling, and energy efficiency. These tasks were then immediately supported with the necessary staff capacities, and corresponding investment capital was made available.”

The two new subdivisions Recycling and Energy Management were set up very quickly and already defined the first COsavings targets in spring 2019 (which the company has gone on to exceed). The KURZ Environmental Committee is also looking for more and more ways to save energy and resources. The company’s Fürth and Sulzbach-Rosenberg production plants are now supplied with 100% green electricity. In Sulzbach-Rosenberg, 24 percent of the annual average electricity will soon come from an environmentally friendly open-area solar system that is currently being built, in peak times, this figure is expected to reach up to 100 percent.

Overcoming challenges

But PET recycling is not just about energy and resource efficiency, as Dr. von Beyer explains: “From a technical perspective, we at RECOSYS had to overcome considerable challenges, both in terms of material processing and with respect to the transfer into a raw material that can be easily processed. Our expertise in plastic processing came in very useful, of course, but the path to RECOPOUND®, our premium-quality PET recycling pellets, was long and rocky. Injection-molded parts repeatedly broke apart immediately after production, and we had to adapt our formulas and processes time and again. But in the end, RECOPOUND emerged as a genuine high-tech material that is also suitable for demanding injection molding applications.”

“We need a paradigm shift, so that the returned carriers are not regarded as waste but as what they actually are: a first-class recyclable material!”

Ralph Hopfensitz, Senior Vice President Global Technology—Member of the Managing Board, LEONHARD KURZ Stiftung & Co. KG

What about the costs?

In order to maintain the system and cover the high investments and running costs at least to a certain extent, KURZ cannot offer RECOSYS free of charge. This is why the transfer products suitable for returning are sold with a small surcharge, for reasons of both sustainability and cost effectiveness, although it will still take some time until the system will turn profitable. Not all processors understand the need for this surcharge, not least due to the high cost pressure and price sensitivity of the packaging industry. 
Ralph Hopfensitz believes that what’s needed is a paradigm shift, so that the returned carriers are not regarded as waste but as what they actually are: a first-class recyclable material! “We understand that our customers must first grapple with the idea in general and realize that it’s about more than just returning ‘waste.’ Because by extracting and using a recyclable material, we return it into circulation, which brings us another step closer to a closed loop.”

“Ultimately, we want to create a recycled material that allows us to make new PET films for our own transfer products to close the loop.”

Dr. Markus von Beyer, Global Head of EHS & S, LEONHARD KURZ Stiftung & Co. KG

A truly closed loop

This is also the key theme for Dr. Markus von Beyer as he looks to the future: “RECOPOUND is a real milestone in our work towards recycling PET carriers. Two years ago, we wouldn’t even have dared to dream of reaching it. Nevertheless, we’re not resting on our laurels. Our goal is to make the closed loop a reality in the best possible way. With this in mind, our developments are pressing ahead at full speed, both in our Recycling unit and in the Transfer Product Development and Process Engineering departments. Ultimately, we want to create a recycled material that can be used to make new PET films for our own transfer products. Only this step will fully close the loop. After all, how could we—a leader in quality standards—promote RECOSYS more credibly than by reusing the recycled material ourselves?”


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