In 1989, the four founding partners of Ekol (Kempense Steenkoolmijnen, OVAM, LVM and Eurobox) started a pilot project with which they wanted to provide the answer to a pressing ecological issue. In today's consumer society, the ever-increasing number of plastic packaging is resulting in an ever-growing waste mountain. The solution: teaching citizens to sort plastics and recycle them.
For consumers, the distinction between PET, PE, PP and PVC plastics is, however, unclear. Plastic foil, butter container, strawberry punnet or flowerpot - as far as the citizen is concerned, they are all plastic. That's why we developed machinery from the start that processes highly-contaminated, mixed streams of household plastic waste. Only then could we use a simple approach to sorting. This is a top priority for the ECO-oh! Group.
Ekol grew steadily until, in 2010, it reached its maximum capacity of 10,000 tonnes. In the same year, Ekol was sold to the current owners who decided to expand production capacity to 22,000 tonnes per year. This was enough capacity to recycle the household plastic waste of 2.5 million Belgians in Flanders. At the same time, significant innovation was seen in the processability of the recycled materials.
In 2015, the name was changed from Ekol to ECO-oh! and the ECO-oh! Group was split into separate entities for recycling, processing, innovation and commercialisation. With a strong, experience-focused brand, ECO-oh!, and a new organisation, the ECO-oh! Group is poised for further growth.
As an industrial company, ECO-oh! is ecological by nature. By recycling residual plastics into 100% recyclable materials and products in the most eco-efficient and cost-effective way, we are creating our own cycle. This is done at our plants in Houthalen and Laakdal, both of which boast a production process without discharges and emissions, using 100% green electricity.
In Houthalen we catch rainwater and purify our own waste water without discharge. Organic residues released during the recycling process are composted.
We are proud to say our unique plant in Houthalen has been awarded the ISO 14001 environmental management systems certification.
But even more important than our expansion is the fact that, on average, the quality and processability of the recycled raw materials has improved substantially. The functional usefulness of the new regranulate provides increased market opportunities for ECO-oh!.
In addition to making investments in intrusion, we have new lines for extrusion, injection, and a 100% automated line for the production of panels. With new moulds and a philosophy of making modular products, we provide contemporary design and flexible combination options.
In the coming years, innovation will also be our driving force for the further upcycling of our products. The patenting of a new production procedure means the use of recycled raw materials will be unlimited. This is something that we will make further announcements about in the spring of 2017.
The new European standard for recycling 55% of all household plastics waste before 2025 is a very achievable target. We are proving that real mechanical recycling is achievable with 97% real output of raw materials. This means "thermal valorisation", or simply incinerating, becomes unnecessary.
As a partner of governments and manufacturers, the ECO-oh! Group is today offering solutions with a strong upcycling process for recycling household plastic waste into 100% recyclable products in a closed cycle. With a profitable business model, we are working with intermunicipal companies and more than 1.5 million Flemish sorters to prove that, in addition to PMD sorting, a standard of 55% effective recycling is already being achieved today.
Within the appropriate regulations, the ECO-oh! Group is ready to make the necessary investments in order to create additional capacity in Flanders and Wallonia, which will also provide local employment opportunities. Therefore, we are inviting governments to organise voluntary collections now, and to follow legislation in line with the desire of citizens to sort and recycle. Because recycling is something we do together!
The plastic waste mountain:
The household plastic waste we receive is stored in a wind and rainproof hall to prevent litter, odour and visual pollution.
Reduction to fist size:
At the start of the process, the blades of a rotor shredder are used to shrink the residual plastics to fist size, which allows a fully-automatic process.
Removal of non-plastics, washing and separating:
A pre-wash drum separates all non-plastics, glass, stones and metals from the plastics. After that, a two part-process occurs in the separating tank: a floating group (PE, PP) and a sinking group (PVC, PET, PS).
Mechanical drying and further sorting:
In a mechanical drying process, water and paper are removed from the washed plastics via a centrifuge. Following which, the floating group is split into a foil group and a hard group using air.
Agglomerate and regranulate:
Finally, the foil groups are placed in the aglomerator or the regranulator to be compacted into raw plastic pellets. In this process, the density is increased tenfold. The plastic pellets are ready for processing into new products.
Processing into products:
Today, the ECO-oh! Group has four extrusion lines, an intrusion line, a robotised injection line, and an ultra-modern panel machine.
During production, the plastic granules are melted and pressed into moulds, or they continue through and are cooled using water.
Finally, the finishing department assembles and colours the products into finished products.