Prof. Dr Kerstin Kuchta has been a permanent consultant at Hensel Recycling on the topics of quality management and environmental management since 1998. The range of topics has expanded more and more such that she now also provides advice about health and safety management. With her long-standing commitment and her scientific background, she has provided a significant impulse to our development since the founding of the business. In a recent interview, among other issues, she was asked about important trends in recycling and the measures she is recommending to Hensel Recycling.
Prof. Dr Kuchta explained that the general goal of waste management is to keep all materials in circulation. Recycling is suitable for metal, glass, paper, and organic waste. These are characterised by low wear in use and ideally, they can be broken down into individual components. Of course, there are to some extent technical limits: for example, aluminium and magnesium alloys can only be separated metallurgically with difficulty. Recycling technology is continuously advancing also here: with innovative approaches, it is increasingly possible to recycle complex plastics.
Even better than recycling is the avoidance of waste, along with reuse and longer usage. Anyone who uses their mobile phone for several years – instead of for an average 18-24 months – is doing the environment a favour.
Precious metals from recycling are considered an important source for covering the demand in industrial production. That recycling is making an important contribution to the supply of precious metals is now also known to society. Availability in mines is dropping, and the mining of precious metals is increasingly costly. At the same time, recycling methods are becoming ever more efficient. Significantly less acid and energy are now required for separation. Better measuring technology (matrix method) makes possible the specific recovery of metals. Depending on the metal, recycling is around 75–95 % better for the environment than mining. And if political crises occur in mining countries, supply with secondary raw materials is an important stabilising factor for industrial businesses.
At Hensel Recycling alone, compared to mining around 150,000 tonnes of CO2 are saved per year by recycling platinum group metals. This corresponds to the CO2 absorbed by 12 million beech trees per year.
In the conversations between Prof. Dr Kuchta and Hensel Recycling and looking at the measures implemented, it can be seen that the business is very serious about environmental management, quality management and safety management. The signs of the times were detected at an early stage. Recycling methods are already being developed for fuel cells with the business’s participation in the research project BEST4Hy. In this way, the company is also safeguarding jobs over the long term, because the business related to automotive catalytic converters will peter out in the coming decades or, as a minimum, reduce significantly.
The commitment to the Bavarian Environmental Pact and the Cluster of Environmental Technologies Bavaria demonstrates that the company’s ecological consciousness is integrated deep in the company’s DNA. And the new standard for occupational health and safety (ISO 45001) completes the pattern: here, the focus is on the safety of workers.
New directives and laws primarily demand transparency from large organisations. However, this demand is often passed on from the “big players” to the “small players”. This has always been the case and is no different from the German law related to due diligence in delivery chains. The aspiration at Hensel Recycling to make delivery chains and processes transparent for employees, customers and the public has always existed. As such, the company is well-positioned here. Best example: last year, a code of conduct – based on the German association for precious metals, Fachvereinigung Edelmetalle – was introduced.
The exchange of ideas with Hensel Recycling is personally important for Prof. Dr Kuchta. She can cast an expert eye at the company from the exterior, raise awareness, identify blinkered attitudes and provide suggestions for improvements. In this way, Hensel Recycling can scrutinise its processes and set a benchmark compared to other businesses. At the same time, she can synchronise the work in science with the practice at Hensel Recycling. The knowledge transfer, therefore, occurs in both directions.
As a consultant with many years of experience and her scientific background, Prof. Dr Kuchta considers the currently formulated goal of climate neutrality most definitely a positive development. With the internal implementation of the project for the photovoltaic installations, an important contribution can be made here. Moreover, she would like to encourage further investment in automation, sensors and artificial intelligence. In this way, processes can be improved, the quality of the recycled material obtained evaluated more quickly and more reliably, and material flows optimised.