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An uncertain future for plastic recycling?

In this special guest blog, we hear from Marcel Alberts, founder of Healix, one of our recycling partners, giving his insight into the challenges and future uncertainty for those businesses involved in repurposing used plastic into new raw material. Originally written in Dutch, we felt it was a powerfully written, insightful peace that needed to be heard by a wider audience so have translated it, we hope you find it thought provoking!

You can do something, or you can do nothing. There is not much in between. Yes, you can do a little, or almost nothing. Basically, it comes down to the same thing. But in that case it has no impact. Do something or do nothing. I chose the first option. From a luxurious position, that is. I sold my company in 2019 and could have chosen to count birds with a cocktail in hand. But I didn’t do that. I chose to do something.

After selling my company, I started to look more and more into the plastic problem in the world. The direct reason was David Attenborough’s documentary: A Life On Our Planet. In it he expresses his great concerns about our ecosystem, the climate and the future of our planet in its current form. It triggered me so much that I started reading more and more about it. I had all the time, had no work and there was also a corona crisis going on. I spent hours with my children at home, thinking about their future and that of my grandchildren and generations to come. The more I looked into it, the more I realised that the tide must be turned. Not later. Now.

Let me be honest. I am not an activist. I never used to worry about cruise missiles, never chained myself to sea tankers, never jumped the barricade for a higher minimum wage, and don’t block highways now. In fact, I don’t even drive electric and in my spare time I like to wakeboard on the river Maas with my boat. But you don’t have to be Greta Thunberg to make a difference.

But just how do you make a difference? Well, that is different for everyone but for me it was perhaps a slightly easier decision than others. From my work experience as a marketing manager at DSM Dyneema and later as director/owner of EuroFibers (later FibrXL), where I supplied raw materials to manufacturers of ropes and nets, among other things. It is precisely these ropes and nets that pose a major threat to the water world. Fishermen worldwide throw discarded ropes and nets into the sea. This so-called ‘Ghost Gear’ in the seas and oceans, poses a major threat to ‘marine life’. We all know the image of the turtle entangled in a net. An image that rightly affects people, but the problem is also too big for those people to tackle; and it’s not just restricted to the sea, it is a massive issue on land as well. This applies to the entire climate crisis, by the way. It’s as if a meteorite is hitting our earth. What can you do? Stop the meteorite with your hands? Run away? Want to live in a cave deep in a mountain? No, of course that is not possible, but perhaps there are other solutions?

However, no one can do this alone, there must be global cooperation to make a difference.

But I digress. Back to the discarded ropes and nets of the land and sea. Fortunately, these are now collected in many places in Europe. This means that they no longer end up in the sea, or in landfill, which is very good news. But what happens next? In many cases they are burned, which obviously also has a major negative impact on the environment.

I spent days and nights reading reports, thinking and talking to people during that corona time. Ultimately, I organized a 24-hour hackathon with a number of industry leaders in 2020 to discuss this problem. The outcome: Stop Talking, Start Doing!

This resulted almost immediately in the founding of Healix. The plan: set up a recycling factory for discarded ropes and nets; quickly expanding my goals to include agricultural nets and twines from the land.

I started 3 years ago and now in 2024 I can say: it was a bumpy road, but…. production is running, I have a great team, reliable partners such as Tama, sufficient raw materials and the end product, the recycled granules, is of such a quality that it is almost as good as ‘virgin plastic’. You could say that the flag can be taken out. I would certainly have said that if you had told me this 3 years ago when I was standing in that empty factory hall. However, who could have predicted that the war in Ukraine would not only cause indescribable human suffering (everything is relative), but also sky-high energy bills and such low prices for virgin plastic that competition is almost impossible. Because yes, large corporates may want and need to make a contribution and work with (partly) recycled plastic. But not at any price, because money also has to be earned. Money that Healix does not earn now. And this does not only apply to Healix. Plastic recycling companies simply can’t make it. Just like Healix, they try to get through ‘the valley of death’ or go bankrupt. While these companies are extremely valuable, if not indispensable, for achieving climate targets.

Again, I am not an activist. Not yet. But now jump on the barricade for all these companies that need help. The government must intervene. Plastic buyers do not do this on their own initiative or do so insufficiently. The commercial interests are too great for that. If I have to chain myself to the doors of the big corporates, I will. If I have to block the access roads to The Hague, I will be at the front. If that is what it takes to turn the tide, this budding activist will take to the streets with banners. Together with partners in the industry. But please don’t let it get to that point. Face it government. Men and women in The Hague. It’s your turn. Stop plodding. Action is what we need. Be an example for the countries around us and beyond. Make the Netherlands and the world proud!

Tama and the enviroment

At Tama we are committed to driving the market forward, making manufacturers more accountable for the entire lifecycle of our products.  That is why we work closely with Healix to develop new product for our TamaCycle range of twines, nets and webs.

Our latest product innovation, EZ Web is designed to make it easier than ever for farmers and contractors to recycle their used agricultural plastic, read our article on this ground breaking new product.

Healix have also helped us pioneer our TamaCycle Twine, the first agricultural twine, made from twine.  No plastics bottle or bags, just used agricultural plastic, transformed back into new twine to be used again and again on the farm, closing the manufacturing loop and keeping plastic where it belongs and not in landfill.

Watch YouTuber, Lord Muck as he follows our recycled twine on its manufacturing journey or read our article on ‘re-generated twine’.

For more information about how you can improve the sustainability of your crop baling practices, contact a member of our team.

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