From consumers to drugstores: Veolia closes the recycling loop in Hamburg

Posted on 20 May 2021.

Veolia and its partners have created a complete recycling loop in Hamburg, Germany, by transforming locally collected postconsumer packaging waste into new bottles, which are then sold on the shelves of shops in the German city.

From the consumer to the drugstore - a complete local recycling loop giving HDPE bottles a new life.

While bottles made of PET - the most commonly used plastic for beverage bottles - are widely recycled, this is not necessarily the case for bottles made of HDPE, another type of plastic. This material is denser than PET, and is mainly used to make packaging for cosmetics, detergents and other household products that for example need to be protected from sunlight.

Five companies in the Hamburg region of Germany tackled this problem with the project “Hamburgs Wertstoff Innovative”. Together, they managed to create a closed loop to transform the collected HDPE bottles from consumers’ packaging waste into new bottles that in turn are resold in the city's drugstores. 

Closed loop

It all starts with waste collection by the city itself. The collected packaging waste, including HDPE material, is taken to Veolia's local sorting plant. The waste is sorted and then transported to another Veolia plant. There it is shredded, washed and processed into small plastic pellets. One of the world's leading consumer goods producers and a partner in the project, Unilever, turns the pellets into new plastic bottles for its detergents. Throughout the process, Hamburg University of Technology conducts a series of tests to ensure that the new material meets all the health and safety standards. Once filled, the bottles are distributed throughout Budni drugstores in Hamburg.

From the consumer to the city's drugstores, Veolia and its partners have successfully set up a local closed circular economy loop to give new life to HDPE bottles.

"I am particularly proud of this Hamburg-wide plastic recycling project partnering with companies based in our city. I hope it will inspire ideas for other similar initiatives," said Jens Kerstan, Hamburg's Senator for the Environment, in a Veolia press release. The icing on the cake: the process saves a significant amount of CO2 emissions. According to the University of Applied Sciences of Magdeburg-Stendal, producing 1 kg of HDPE granulate saves more than 1.37 kg of CO2 compared to 1 kg of virgin plastic.