A mere six percent of new plastic products are made from recycled material. But the industry is doing a lot to turn the tide, and Rondo Plast in Ystad, Sweden, has a key position in the chain: right before the recovered plastic is turned into new components.

The Rondo Plast factory in Ystad houses more than production. In the high-tech laboratory, specialists in polymers, additives and pigments perform rigorous tests to ensure the quality of the raw material. Photo: Rondo Plast AB.

”Injection moulders and extruders are our customers. Our role is to have strict requirements on our suppliers, and deliver a material with sufficient quality according to specifications. We assure the quality in our laboratory”, says Fredrik Holst, Product Manager at Rondo Plast AB.

Rondo supplies plastic compounds, a mix of raw materials in the form of granules, that is sold to component manufacturers mostly in the construction, vehicle and furniture industries.

”The first stage of Rondo’s production is a recycling process with technology for particle-size determination, metal separation and homogenization. Any contaminants are separated from the material flow using advanced process automation. The next stage is technical compounding; we mix melted plastic raw materials and add additives and reinforcements based on product specific recepies. The final products are quality-specific plastic granules. After quality control in our laboratory the material is ready for delivery”.

At least 50 percent recycled plastic

The raw materials are mixed in order to obtain the specific quality defined by the customer, and the properties can be fine-tuned to suit the application. The compound is made from used industry and consumer plastics, and the environmental advantage is substantial: the use of one ton of recycled plastic results in a reduction of carbon dioxide emissions equivalent to more than 7,000 km of driving in a medium size car.

”All products are always based on more than 50 percent recycled plastic raw material. Many of the products contain 100 percent; the concentration is mainly determined by the quality aspect. When necessary, we use new material to ensure that we always have the right quality level.”

Many manufacturers are eager to use more recycled plastic, but quality assured recycled material is in short supply. Still, Rondo Plast has high hopes for the future:

The entire product line contains at least 50 percent recycled plastic. Several products are 100 percent recycled. Photo: Rondo Plast AB.

”The price of recycled plastics depends on the quality; you usually get what you pay for. We believe that it will stabilize since the price level of recycled material is decided primarily by supply and demand, while the price of virgin material depends more on the price of its chemical components”, Fredrik Holst says. He adds that their customers have begun to look at materials in a new way:

”It is not just about saving money anymore. An eco-friendly reputation is more and more important, and green products have an increasing marketing value.” It is not always a trivial thing to decide which products are best in that respect, though, and Holst warns that many get confused by the terminology:

”’Bioplastics’ is a rather confusing notion. Our sister company Scanfill produces plastic for packaging, and they have a biobased material in their portfolio, a fossil-free HDPE from sugarcane; that material is perfectly recyclable, even together with conventional HDPE. Biodegradable plastics are a different creature altogether. They can not be recycled with other plastics, which is an often overlooked challenge. They don’t degrade in nature either, only in a controlled environment like a biochamber with a certain moisture level and temperature.

In-house lab for quality assurance

The company spends a lot of effort assuring the origin and quality level of their raw materials. The flexural and tensile properties, flammability, flowability, composition of the plastic, presence of heavy metals and contaminants – all of this and more is tested in Rondo’s own well-developed laboratory, with the aid of a range of special instruments.  Even different weather conditions are simulated, to test how the materials react.

”The raw material is a paramount consideration for us as a compounder, and we are inspecting the sources, looking at quality and volume. We perform mechanical and chemical tests, on every new source and recurringly”, Fredrik Holst says.

The right plastic in the right place

Rondo develops their product range in cooperation with the mother company Polykemi. Rondo contributes with 30 years of experience in refining recycled plastics, Polykemi with world-leading capability in technical polymer compounding. The result is a recipe for the future:

”The use of both recycled and virgin plastic will continue to grow, because of the tremendous properties of the material”, Fredrik Holst predicts. He underlines that plastic as an invention should not have to take the fall for problems ultimately caused by irresponsible waste management, and believes the leading line should be to create circular plastic flows, making sure that the right plastic is used in the right place:

”We – the industry – have to lead the way, along with the decision-makers in different countries. It takes more than investments to build an industry capable of managing the growing streams; products have to be designed with waste management and recycling in mind.”

Successful cooperation with Volvo Cars

Volvo Cars unveiled a special version of the XC60 SUV during the Volvo Ocean Race in summer 2018: 60 kg of plastic components had been replaced with recycled material. Rondo Plast was involved from the very beginning, as raw materials provider and link between Volvo Cars and their suppliers. Photo: Volvo Cars.

In summer 2018, during the Volvo Ocean Race in Gothenburg, Sweden, a custom-made XC60 containing 60 kg of recycled plastic was presented by Volvo Cars. The car is indistinguishable from the common XC60, but the interior contains renewable fibers and plastic from old fishing nets, ropes and PET bottles. Rondo Plast was involved from the very beginning.

”It was both challenging and inspiring to find a way to meet the requirements on the various components. All the parties involved have learned a lot from the collaboration. The concept car demonstrated that details from recycled plastics is a realistic alternative, and it led Volvo Cars to express a new goal: at least 25 percent of plastic details in every new model is going to be replaced by recycled materials by 2025. It is an incredibly exciting project and we hope to have a stake in the process as it continues”, Fredrik Holst says. He summarizes:

”We see great opportunities ahead to keep recycling thermoplastics, both for business and sustainability reasons”.

The article was published in October 2018.