This is also confirmed by our most recent materiality analysis, in which Circular Economy was rated as one of the top 3 issues. Our activities counter insufficient availability of resources in the supply chain and in our production. In addition, Circular Economy opens up new business opportunities and attractive growth prospects for Evonik. This is demonstrated, for example, by the joint development with the Vita Group of an efficient process for recycling mattresses and the expansion of our additives portfolio for mechanical and chemical recycling.
Global Circular Plastics Program
In our Global Circular Plastics Program, we bundle our circular activities across the Group with a focus on plastics along the entire value chain. The program comprises short- to medium-term projects with a clear focus on commercialization. These address, for example
- the use of circular raw materials,
- the development of solutions for mechanical and chemical recycling technologies and
- the development of innovative business models that take into account the requirements of the Circular Economy.
Intensive engagement with our own value chains and corresponding partnerships are important keys for us to support the transformation to circular forms of economy. Overall, we expect the global circular plastics program to generate additional sales of more than €350 million p.a. by 2030.
Our contribution to a circular economy along the value chain
The procurement of circular raw materials is important to leverage our own footprint and, especially, to reduce scope 3 emissions. Therefore, we aim to increase the use of alternative raw materials in the manufacture of our products. This may include recycled secondary raw materials derived from fossil and bio-based waste, bio-based primary raw materials, or CO2-based raw materials. We are endeavoring to increase the proportion of renewable raw materials. That includes examining technical, economic, ecological, and social aspects. One ongoing challenge is the limited availability of circular raw materials due to regional fluctuations in supply.
Gate to gate
We generate 84 percent of our sales are generated outside Germany. That highlights the global alignment of our business. We have production facilities in 27 countries and are therefore close to our markets and our customers. Our largest production sites—Marl, Wesseling, and Rheinfelden (Germany), Antwerp (Belgium), Mobile (Alabama, USA), Shanghai (China) and Singapore—have integrated technology platforms, most of which are used by several business lines. This results in valuable economies of scale and integrated use of our material flows. Continuous process optimization and the efficient use of resources have always been very important in our production activities.
Evonik also offers solutions that support circularity during the use of products and at the end of their life cycle. For example, our additives increase the durability of our customers’ products and therefore make a contribution to saving resources. Furthermore, our additives improve mechanical and chemical recycling processes and recyclates. Evonik provides an extensive range of additives for mechanical recycling. In this way, we help our partners optimize the efficiency and quality of their processes.
For example, with our surfactants, printing inks can be washed out of used plastics faster, reducing the ink residues in recycled plastics. Moreover, after the washing process, less water remains on the plastic, saving time and energy in the drying process. Our additives also minimize odor and improve the processability and mechanical properties of recyclates. As a result, the yields of secondary materials are increased. We are also involved in a joint project with BMW and other companies along the value chain that aims to increase the proportion of recyclates that can be used in automotive components.
Since 2021, we have been partnering with Wildplastic, a start-up that supports countries with inadequate waste management systems in the collection of plastic waste from nature by providing fair payment. The recycled plastics are used, for example, in high-quality garbage bags. As well as additives for cleaning and reprocessing, we offer Wildplastic an extensive network and thus support the creation of jobs in the relevant countries.
Our products and technologies enable the recycling of used tires at the end of the life cycle for reuse in high-quality applications, thus avoiding incineration. Our partners reduce their ecological footprint by using tire granulates instead of fossil-based bitumen in road surfaces. As well as reducing traffic noise (low-noise asphalt) and cutting fuel consumption by cars, this greatly increases the service life of the road surface, reduces maintenance, and makes the surface recyclable.
Chemical recycling is a solution for plastic waste streams that cannot be recycled eco-efficiently using mechanical or technical processes. That applies, on the one hand, to mixed, heavily contaminated or colored thermoplastics and, on the other, to duroplasts that cannot be melted. To achieve this, Evonik makes additives, adsorbents, catalysts, and process know-how available to its partners. We therefore facilitate chemical recycling of plastics residues that would otherwise be incinerated or disposed of in landfills. We have developed chemical recycling processes to regain the basic components of polyurethanes for use in the production of new polyurethanes. With our expertise in catalysts and process technology, we are making a key contribution to this. Similarly, our catalysts and process technologies enable recycling of PET packaging and colored PET plastics, which are not suitable for mechanical recycling, at the end of their life cycle.
In the case of heavily blended or contaminated plastics streams, we help avoid incineration by enabling their use in the production of pyrolysis oils. In this technology, plastics streams are converted into a pyrolysis oil at a high temperature without air. This can be used as a substitute for fossil naphtha in crackers, providing the basic ingredients for the synthesis of polymers. This technology is currently still at the pilot stage. To help meet the ecological and economic requirements on an industrial scale as well, we have increased our product offerings for the production of pyrolysis oils. We supply adsorbents and catalysts for the separation of contaminants and purification as well as additives that enable the processing of pyrolysis oils at low temperatures. Our SiYPro™ additives help our partners make their production processes safer and more robust. Another way of ensuring the circularity of heavily contaminated or mixed plastics streams is the production of synthesis gas. For this too, we are developing cleaning technologies such as adsorbents.
Evonik technologies are also used in the design for recycling approach. One example is a binder for heat-sealing applications (DEGALAN®), which allows the production of yogurt pots from a single material, so the pot and lid can be recycled together. Previously, yogurt pots had to be disposed of by incineration because of the aluminum lid. Together with a partner, at the K 2022 trade show for the plastics and rubber industry in Düsseldorf (Germany), we presented a concept for a monomaterial car seat produced by 3D printing: Substituting polyamide 12 for all materials used to produce seats, for example, plastics, metals, foams, and textiles, facilitates cost-efficient and ecological mechanical recycling. The concept should inspire other product designers to reduce the range of materials used. Moreover, new business models such as leasing could make such concepts viable in more price-sensitive markets.
Durable products with good usability reduce the resources and waste that would otherwise be consumed or generated in maintenance or the production of replacements. Building protection additives are a good example: They enhance the stability and appearance of concrete structures that are exposed to weathering and environmental influences.
Alternative circular solutions are needed for products and ingredients that are difficult or impossible to collect and recycle because of their properties or application. Evonik’s answers include, for example, fully biodegradable biosurfactants derived entirely from renewable raw materials.