Less than a year and a half after construction began in March 2023, Europe’s most advanced plastic sorting plant in Enns (District Linz-Land) has started full operations. The 65 million euro plant named TriPlast was built as a joint venture by the Mollner family business Bernegger, Altstoff Recycling Austria AG (ARA), and the German Grüne Punkt Holding and can sort 100,000 tons of lightweight packaging annually.

The plastic recycling industry in Austria still has a lot of room for improvement: Of the approximately one million tons of plastic waste generated in Austria each year, only about 25 percent is currently recycled. However, EU regulations require an increase in the recycling rate for plastic packaging to 55 percent by 2030. To achieve this goal, ARA Managing Director Martin Prieler explains that 80 percent of all packaging must be collected, 80 percent of that sorted, and a yield of 80 percent achieved in recycling – currently, these values are at 58, 58, and 78 percent. From 2025, around 20 percent of collected plastic and metal packaging will be subject to a deposit system and will continue to pass through the sorting plant.

In the approximately 14,000 square meter hall, packaging waste from the yellow sack and yellow bin is separated. On average, the yellow sack/yellow bin consists of about 70 percent plastic, 10 percent metals, around 14 percent contaminants, and the rest from beverage cartons, as TriPlast reveals. In the input area, the yellow sacks are unloaded, torn open, and distributed on conveyor belts, which span over 2.5 kilometers and six floors through the plant.

A drum screen sorts the material by size before films are sucked out with a wind sifter – a type of blower – and the waste is further separated into different types and colors of plastics using 38 near-infrared sensor devices. Metals are filtered out by magnets. The plastic waste goes through 57 sorting units. The packaging is processed and further processed into recyclate, which can be used for the production of new packaging or other products such as shampoo bottles, canisters, films, or components for the automotive and electronics industry.

The plant processes 20 tons per hour, resulting in an annual capacity of 100,000 tons of plastic and metal packaging, covering half of Austria’s sorting capacity for lightweight packaging, according to Managing Director Kurt Bernegger. TriPlast can recognize, analyze, and separate 24 different waste fractions and recover them as raw materials. From next year, a turnover of 15 to 20 million euros is expected with 60 employees. The location at Ennshafen enables trimodal connectivity, allowing deliveries and transports by truck, rail, and ship.

Globally, the recycling rate of plastic packaging is 14 percent. Since the 1950s, around 8 billion tons of plastic have been produced worldwide, three-quarters of which have already ended up in landfills and only 9 percent have been recycled. As material is also discarded in the recycling process and quality losses occur („downcycling“), the yield is significantly lower than with aluminum, which is reusable without loss of quality. Even if the ambitious 55 percent target is achieved, only 2.5 kilograms of the original material will remain from one ton of primary plastic after ten usage cycles, as calculated by the Austrian Environmental Consultancy on its website. Therefore, waste prevention plays a significant role in the plastic sector.