Our Recyclate Initiative for clean oceans

If we don’t act fast, the world’s oceans will hold more plastic than fish (by weight) in the year 2050. That shocking news from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation made its way around the globe back in 2016.

However, if we handle it properly and keep it in a cycle, plastic can be one of the most sustainable materials of our time.

Werner & Mertz has long been working toward establishing a functioning circular economy. We recognized early that sustainability is not limited to the product itself, but is applicable to the packaging as well.

The source matters for the climate: Plastic from the Yellow Bag

In 2012 we launched the Recyclate Initiative with the goal of obtaining used plastic from European household waste collections like the Yellow Bag and reprocessing the material for high-quality re-use. Up until then, this source for millions of tons of plastic waste had not been tapped for the production of new packaging.

In cooperation with our partners along the entire value chain, we developed ways to obtain used plastic (Post-Consumer Recyclate) from energy-saving mechanical recycling and use it to produce equally valuable packaging of the same high quality.

Since then our packaging has been made of 100% recyclate with 50% to 100% from household waste collections such as the Yellow Bag and the rest from European deposit bottle collection. With the Yellow Bag as the source, we establish a genuine high-quality functioning circular economy by taking a cleaning product bottle after use and turning it into a bottle again.

The environment benefits from our efforts. Plastic recycling prevents the polluting of land and sea and avoids the unnecessary thermal recycling (incineration) of valuable plastic. In addition, it conserves natural resources by eliminating the need for crude oil in the production of new plastic. We effectively reduce the carbon footprint of every single product and thus actively contribute to climate protection.

Moreover, we engage at social and political levels, advocating the use of high-quality plastic recycling and increasing awareness of our innovative solutions that can be implemented for immediate effect.

Over the past decade, we have been recognized internationally as a Best-Practice example for recyclable packaging. Our innovations developed within the scope of the Recyclate Initiative have earned multiple awards.

Chronology of our Recyclate Initiative

Our goal to 2025 is clear. All our packaging is 100% recyclable and contains 100% Post-Consumer Recyclate! Furthermore, at a political level, we continue to encourage decision-makers to support the use of recyclate and the switch to recyclable packaging so that our way is made economically attractive to  other companies.  After all, we alone cannot stop the plastic polluting of our planet—we all have to work together!

Together with our cooperation partner ALPLA in the Recyclate Initiative, we have again scored a success for the genuine circular economy. For our proven PET bottles of 100 percent recycled plastic, we have  increased the proportion of rPET from the Yellow Bag from 50 to 75%. By the end of 2023, more than four million PET bottles with the higher share of recyclate have been placed in the market. And so we forge ahead, a pioneer in the technical exploitation of material from the Yellow Bag for high-quality packaging.

Once again we set a new recycling standard. We develop the first trigger spray head for the circular economy—completely recyclable and, for the first time, with post-consumer recyclate in the mechanical parts. For this innovation we again receive the German Environmental Award in the Sustainability category.

Another major milestone from our Recyclate Initiative: We increase the share of Yellow Bag material from 20% to 50% in our 100% rPET bottles. For this accomplishment  we again receive the German Packaging Award in the Sustainability category and the German Sustainability Award Design  for our Frosch brand recyclable packaging. In the same year we, together with Beiersdorf and Fraunhofer Institute, publish a guideline on the use of recyclate in cosmetic packaging.

We convert all our pouches to the recyclable stand-up pouch made from a monomaterial and develop a sustainable, circular printing ink system—this time for flexography–which then receives the Material Health Certification (MHC) in GOLD. In order to develop a standard for cosmetic packaging made from post-consumer recyclate, we enter into a cooperative effort with the cosmetic company Beiersdorf and the Fraunhofer-Institut for Processing Engineering and Packaging.

The year 2019 is filled with superlatives for us. We bring to market the first shower gel bottle with 100% HDPE recyclate from the Yellow Bag, a world-first in the cosmetic segment that earns the German Packaging Award. We also officially dedicate our new Production Center, which houses the largest recyclate bottle production in the world. In his keynote address at the ceremony, the Green Party Chair Robert Habeck says, “The way Werner & Mertz works has to be the standard for the future!”

Then in September Werner & Mertz owner Reinhard Schneider receives the German Envrionmental Award for his comprehensive sustainability strategy. In his speech of praise, Bundespräsident Frank-Walter Steinmeier said Schneider had shown that environmental awareness and entrepreneurial activity were not mutually exclusive and that Schneider had made the combination into his recipe for success.

While our rHDPE bottles and rPP caps of 100% recyclate continue earning awards, we get to work on the next innovation. We complete development of our patented stand-up pouch made of a 100% recyclable monomaterial. Furthermore, we present our initiative and political demands around the world, for example, at the World Economic Forum in Davos and, upon request from Environmental Minister Svenja Schulze, at Our Ocean Conference in Bali.

Now the third type of plastic takes its turn. We succeed in converting our flip-top caps to 100% recycled polypropylene and receive the German Packaging Award for the achievement.  At the same time we develop sustainable printing inks which are awarded the Material Health Certification (MHC) in GOLD. At Our Ocean Conference in Malta we pledge for the first time to use only 100% recyclable packaging AND to produce it from 100% recyclate by 2025. No other company sets such high circular economy goals for its own packaging.

In 2016 we reach yet another technological milestone. After converting our PET bottles, we do the same with the first HDPE bottles of 100% recyclate – all of which comes from the Yellow Bag! The bottles are used for our floor care brand emsal and our brand Green Care Professional for professional users. In this year we again win many awards for our innovations, which make our initiative better known in political circles across Europe.

We are now recognized throughout the country as a best-practice example for recyclable plastic packaging. High-ranking politicians like Dr. Barbara Hendricks and Green Party Chair Cem Özdemir visit our company in Mainz. At a G7 Workshop Werner & Mertz owner Reinhard Schneider introduces our initiative as an example of resource-conserving efficiency to an international audience. In the same year we convert all of our PET bottles to 100% recyclate with a 20% share from the Yellow Bag.

In 2014 our Recyclate Initiative takes another important step. For the first time, we conduct marketing tests with dishwashing detergent whose bottles are made of 100% recyclate, 20% of which comes from the Yellow Bag. According to the USA Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the bottles are food-safe – a milestone! Our engagement is again rewarded with many awards.

To advance the cause of plastic recycling at a political level, we intensify our work in several industry associations and organizations.

For the integrally sustainable orientation of our products, we receive two Cradle to Cradle Certified® Gold awards in 2013.  One is for the Frosch Citrus Shower and Bath cleaner as the first cleaning product ever to be so honored and the other for Green Care Professional, the first complete professional cleaning and care range to earn the distinction. Our Frosch PET bottles now contain more than an 80% of recyclate.

We officially established our Recyclate Initiative at the German Sustainability Day in Düsseldorf on 7 December 2012. The objective of the initiative is to keep plastic from household waste collection systems like the Yellow Bag in a material cycle where it is available for re-use. Among the first to join our resource-conserving initiative were NABU (Nature And Biodiversity Conservation Union) and the plastic packaging company ALPLA.

Many years ago we decided we wanted recyclable packaging for our integrally sustainable products with ecological formulas. In 2008 we first used recycled plastic (known as “recyclate”) in our bottles. Until 2011, we successively increased the recyclate share to more than 65%. During that time we recruited partners along the entire value chain who would develop with us shared solutions for high-quality reuse of plastic obtained from the Yellow Bag.

You’ll find more details about our Recyclate Initiative here: