Freudenberg: a pioneer in recycling

The issue of environmental protection has featured prominently in the news recently. The US announced its decision to step down from the 2015 Paris Climate Change Agreement. And in New York, the first “Ocean Conference” of the United Nations addressed the theme of sustainability. Solutions and new approaches are being sought to combat overfishing of the oceans, as well as to counter rising sea levels and increasing marine waste. Much of this waste is plastic, such as PET bottles. Recycling offers a systematic solution. Freudenberg is Europe’s largest user of recycled PET in construction applications. The technology group has been active in recycling since the 1990s. The company’s plants in Novedrate and Pisticci Scalo, Italy, as well as in Colmar, France, recycle millions of PET bottles every day. The purified recyclate is processed into nonwovens that are used in construction, for example as substrates for bituminous waterproof membranes.

The company’s first recycling plant was established in Novedrate in the 1990s and uses PET bottles from household waste for the production of polyester. Freudenberg was a pioneer in recycling in Italy. Further recycling plants were subsequently constructed in Pisticci and Colmar. Today, around 65 percent of the PET bottles they use come from European collection systems, in which plastic waste is separated according to various recycling materials. The remainder is purchased from independent sorting companies.

The process begins with the removal of any foreign materials from the bottles. In a second step, the bottles are washed and shredded into flakes. These flakes are then melted and converted into fibers (staple fiber technology) or fed directly into the spinning process (spun-laid technology) to produce recycled polyester nonwovens. These are used as substrates for bitumen membranes for waterproofing.

The advantage of this production cycle is that not only is waste recycled, but carbon dioxide emissions can also be significantly reduced. By effectively replacing new raw materials with recycled polyester, natural resources can be saved, reducing the strain on the environment. In addition, the energy consumption involved in the production of new raw materials is eliminated.

In addition to construction-related applications, old PET bottles can also take on a new life as a Vileda broom, filler materials for clothing or fibers for furniture