Sustainability at RKW
We at RKW are fully committed to our responsibility towards society and the environment. This is also evident in our corporate purpose: We enhance the quality of daily life and strive to create a more sustainable world through our high-performance, innovative plastic films. Furthermore, we have set ourselves ambitious sustainability targets and we are continuously working to contribute to a sustainable future.
We strive to keep resources in the cycle and are looking for solutions to close the loop. We address the major challenges of our industry to develop innovative and sustainable packaging solutions that support our customers‘ sustainability goals while meeting their high performance expectations.
Our sustainability strategy is based on the ESGs (Environment, Social and Governance) and on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
This report gives you an insight how we are continuously improving our contribution to sustainability.
This sustainability report was prepared with reference to the guidelines of the internationally established Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) standard.
Our Sustainability Goals
GHG Protocol Scope 1 & 2 greenhouse gas emissions reduction of 50% by 2025, compared to 2017
We have reduced our water consumption by 15% compared to 2017
Lower CO2 emissions compared with 2017
Women in leadership positions in the RKW Group
> 65 years
The RKW Group is an independent family-owned company headquartered in Germany. With over 2,800 employees and with 18 locations in Germany, Belgium, France, Finland, Sweden, the USA, Vietnam, Egypt and China, we have an international presence.
Our expertise in the research, development and production of polyolefin films makes us one of the world‘s leading manufacturers for a wide range of industries and applications – including agriculture, hygiene and packaging.
We pass on the knowledge we have continuously built up and expanded over 65 years to our customers and business partners in the form of innovative and customized product solutions and services.
What we stand for
RKW stands for reliability. Our customers can rely on us to deliver what we promise: On-time delivery, quality and functionality of our products. This is the basis for the success of our company.
Our corporate slogan “When excellence matters” underlines our efforts to always offer our customers excellent products and services and to set standards in quality and service – with a clear focus on the respective added value for our customers, business partners and employees.
RKW committed to diversity
Equal opportunities, diversity and inclusion are central components of our corporate philosophy. We support this through policies and development opportunities regardless of the age and gender of our employees.
|Share of women||16.8%||25.1%|
|Average age||40.7 years||45.9 years|
|12.5 years||10.0 years|
|Share of women||16.8%|
|Average age||40.7 years|
|Share of women||25.1%|
|Average age||45.9 years|
Our sustainability goals
GHG Protocol Scope 1 & 2 greenhouse gas emissions reduction of 50% by 2025, compared to 2017
Sustainable film solutions for a wide range of industries
RKW produces films, nonwovens and nets for various applications in the fields of hygiene, flexible packaging, industrial applications, and agriculture and horticulture. They can be further processed into a wide range of products, including as sub-components – from robust cement bags to breathable and ultra-thin baby diapers.
The high quality and reliability of RKW products is the result of decades of experience and technical expertise in blown film extrusion and product finishing, such as compounding, stretching, embossing, perforating and printing. The fulfillment of customer-specific requirements has top priority.
In line with RKW‘s sustainability goals, we are also committed to continuously optimizing the environmental footprint of our products and production processes – including downgauging (thickness reduction), recycling and reusing recycled materials as well as increasing the recycled content, wherever possible.
RKW is one of the market leaders in Europe and an innovation driver for hygiene films (backsheet films) for the production of baby diapers, adult incontinence products and feminine hygiene products. In addition, RKW has set industry standards with the first self-venting cement bag, RKW ProVent®, and Rondotex® round bale nets, which have been on the market worldwide for decades.
RKW is involved in large global networks on sustainable development as well as in topic-specific networks on industry-specific challenges.
The RKW Group is an independent family-owned company. The RKW SE has three corporate bodies:
The Supervisory Board of RKW SE supervises the Executive Management Board and consists of six members: four shareholders and two employee representatives.
The shareholders (consisting of the two owner families) exercise their rights at the General Meeting.
Principles of corporate governance at RKW
Corporate governance at RKW is based on applicable laws, such as the Regulation on the Statute for a European Company (SE Regulation), the German Stock Corporation Act (AktG) and the German Commercial Code (HGB), as well as the main principles and recommendations of the German Corporate Governance Code. It enables us to meet the requirements arising from national and international laws and regulations.
“We aim to make our processes, projects, initiatives and other activities as transparent and effective as possible for customers and business partners, while minimizing the use of resources and ensuring successful business operations overall.
Our corporate governance principles include structured processes, appropriate risk management, sustainable decision-making, transparent action, and an open, motivating and productive working environment in which people enjoy working together and are committed to achieving corporate and sustainability goals.“
Peter Baumgartner, CEO
RKW and its governing bodies are aware of their role and responsibilities to society. Social and environmental factors influence the company‘s performance, and its activities have an impact on people and the environment. The Executive Board of Management and the Supervisory Board take this into account when performing their respective management and supervisory functions.
In developing governance processes, RKW‘s Executive Management Board always takes into account the interests of their owners, employees, business partners and other stakeholders to ensure RKW‘s continued existence and sustainable value creation. These principles require not only compliance with the law, but also ethically sound and responsible conduct.
Compliance Management System (CMS)
The commitment to compliance is part of RKW’s core understanding and strategy. The RKW Code of Conduct is a cornerstone of the RKW compliance culture. The Compliance Management System (CMS) is governed by a group policy that defines the scope of the CMS and establishes its key functions and features.
The RKW CMS is based on the following pillars:
To ensure the functionality of the CMS throughout the group, the RKW Group has implemented a compliance organization with defined roles and responsibilities. In 2022/2023, for example, the compliance organization was further expanded by establishing Local Compliance Managers (LCMs) at all sites. Our LCMs support the central compliance organization in continuously enforcing the RKW compliance culture, serve as compliance contacts for the local organizations, and ensure that relevant topics and inquiries are handled at the same high level throughout the group.
Establishing policies and rules helps our employees make ethical decisions in compliance with legal requirements. Compliance policies and underlying processes that RKW has implemented and maintains include, e.g., the Antitrust Policy, the Anti-Corruption Policy, the Data Protection Policy, and the Donations and Sponsorship Policy.
Handling compliance incidents
Our process for managing incidents is set out in the RKW Group Whistleblower Policy. This policy governs the handling of compliance violations that have occurred (or are suspected) and covers the response to such reports, including the investigation, remediation and prevention of future similar incidents. Great attention is paid here to the protection of individuals reporting suspected compliance violations, as provided for in the EU Whistleblower Directive.
Training and communication
Systematic training and education of our employees on RKW compliance policies and procedures is a central part of our strategy and essential for maintaining compliance awareness in our working environment. The corresponding training program covers the topics of the Code of Conduct, Antitrust, Anti-bribery and Data Protection.
A high level of effectiveness in compliance communication is achieved through a clearly structured compliance organization and appropriate communication channels, as well as a culture of transparency and openness at all levels of our organization.
Monitoring and reporting
The Compliance Committee is our central body for monitoring compliance activities. It meets twice a year to review reports on compliance activities, set targets and provide guidance for the further development of the compliance management system.
Risk management system
In 2022, RKW began revising its risk management process and underlying methodology to ensure group-wide reach and a bottom-up approach to risk assessment. Group-wide communication and dialogue to align the interests of all stakeholders in the risk management process took place, as well as initial risk management workshops and training sessions to update the process and prepare for group-wide risk management assessments starting in 2023.
Internal Control System (ICS)
RKW is aware of the importance of the internal control system in ensuring transparency and accountability in dealing with processes and business risks, which is why we are continuously developing our ICS. In 2022, we have placed a focus on the further harmonization and standardization of processes and internal control procedures in the RKW Group.
Coping climate change and the negative effects of wasting resources are the greatest challenges facing society today. As an energy-intensive plastics processing company, we are aware of our special responsibility and know what contribution we can make to mitigate climate change and improving the circular economy. We address the challenges to which we can make a direct contribution. The key words “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle“ and the active support of the Circular Economy are of particular importance in our company.
“There can be no sustainability without climate protection, because it is an essential basis for a world in which future generations can still live carefree and operate successfully. The use of electricity from renewable energy sources and the continuous improvement of the energy efficiency of our production are only the first steps on our way to actively address the issue of decarbonization. We are committed to take responsibility and to make an active contribution to climate protection. Because only consistent action will keep our planet livable.”
Lea Voß, Head of Sustainability
Strategy and targets
Therefore, as a company, we are committed to reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to do our part in preventing the worst impacts of climate change. We have already achieved our “Strategy 2025“ target to reduce GHG emissions Scope 1+2 (Baseline 2017) by 50% in 2020 – but we are much more ambitious and continue to actively work on reducing our GHG emissions.
For this reason, we have committed to the Science Based Targets Initiative (SBTi) at the end of 2022. Under SBTi, we will set ourselves new targets for scopes 1, 2 and 3 to achieve the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement.
Once our SBTi targets are set, they will replace the emissions reduction targets in our “Strategy 2025“ and, together with the corresponding measures, will form an essential part of our sustainability strategy.
The framework conditions for a structured fact-based reduction of GHG emissions are given by the fulfillment of the strictest requirements: over 40% of our sites have already been ISO 50001 (energy management) certified for several years, 25% of the sites are ISO 14001 (environmental management) certified, our site in Gronau (Germany) is additionally EMAS certified.
Comparable requirements (DIN EN 16247) also apply to the majority of the non-ISO-certified production sites in Europe. In addition, further data analysis systems for monitoring consumption are in use at the RKW Group‘s non-European sites.
The year 2022 has shown that, in addition to the challenge of an environmentally friendly, technology-open energy supply, the issue of supply security plays a central role. As an energy-intensive company, we acknowledge our responsibility and consistently use electricity from renewable sources such as wind, solar and hydropower wherever this is economically viable and technically possible.
After we converted all our German sites to electricity from renewable sources in 2020, five sites in France, Belgium and Sweden followed in 2021.
Due to the economic challenge caused by the Ukraine crisis and the resulting increase in energy costs, we were unable to further expand our renewable energy Renewable energies purchases in 2022. In 2022, we purchased renewable energy certificates for around 170,000 MWh, or over 61% of our global electricity consumption (around 270,000 MWh).
A pilot project was launched at the Gronau site (Germany) in 2021 to identify potential in the area of in-house power generation – e.g., for the use of photovoltaic systems. The aim is to develop a decarbonization strategy and define concrete investment measures, including those relating to own power generation. In parallel, we are evaluating further options for covering our energy needs with renewable energies for the entire RKW Group.
In addition to the use of green electricity, we also continued to optimize our energy efficiency in 2022. The manufacturing of plastic products is an energy-intensive process. It is therefore crucial to constantly monitor and analyze the consumption of electricity, natural gas and other energy sources to identify potential savings.
With the help of a group-wide energy management system, it has been possible to leverage this potential and at the same time establish best practices.
Pending the setting of our ambitious SBTi targets, we have set ourselves the short-term goal of reducing our energy consumption by 1% per year (kWh/t) for the years 2023-2025. Starting initially with 7 sites (5 in Germany, 1 in North America, 1 in Asia), we will expand our program to the remaining sites. The program analyzes the greatest potential at the focus sites and promotes measures that can be implemented quickly without bigger investment, such as optimizing the standby consumption of our sites. The next step is to make the investments that we expect will have the greatest impact and, wherever possible, install components of the best possible energy efficiency classes. Regular meetings are also held with the energy experts at the individual sites to share ideas and best practices.
Our energy experts at the sites are continuously assessing how the energy efficiency of the production facilities and infrastructure can be improved through targeted measures or investments. We are working to reduce our energy consumption through consistent savings measures and investments in highly efficient machines and lighting systems.
In addition to the further conversion to modern LED lighting systems and motion detectors at many sites, in 2022 we have also made investments in more efficient compressors and compressor controls (sites in Ho Chi Minh City/Vietnam, Hoogstraten/Belgium and Nordhorn/ Germany) or speed-controlled drive motors (Michelstadt/ Germany site), optimization of the cooling and heating supply for production and heating systems (sites in Wasserburg, Gronau and Kalefeld/Germany, and Hoogstraten) or the use of solar energy for water heating (Ho Chi Minh City site).
At the site in Helsingborg (Sweden), thanks to a new sophisticated cooling system, the surplus heat from production can be fully used to heat the site. This means that the site will no longer need to purchase district heating in the future.
In total, the RKW Group’s energy consumption in 2022 was around 320,000 gigawatt hours – of which 85% was electric power, 11% gas and 4 % other energy sources. The total energy consumption was reduced by 10% compared to 2021.
Absolute Energy Consumption 2017-2022*
Energy Intensity (EnPI)* 2020-2022
* Due to the insignificance (< 1%), only the consumption of main energy sources (stationary combustion, electricity, district heating) are reported here. The sites closed or sold since 2017 have been omitted from the calculation for consistency, in line with the GHG Protocol Corporate Standard. In parallel to absolute energy consumption, we measure our energy efficiency with an energy performance indicator (EnPI), which expresses our energy performance per metric ton of good production (kWh/t). Despite the energy efficiency measures implemented, this increased slightly in 2021 and 2022, opposite to the reduction in absolute energy consumption. This increase can be explained by various factors influencing the EnPI, e.g. the increased average outside temperature last year (more cooling capacity required) or also lower production volumes due to a drop in demand (shift of divisor).
GHG Emissions Scope 1&2
Scope 1 emissions are, according to the GHG Protocol, direct greenhouse gas emissions that come from sources that we control or own. Scope 2 emissions are indirect greenhouse gas emissions associated with the purchase of electricity, steam, heating or cooling – i.e., emissions that are not under our control but are directly related to our production processes or infrastructure.
Scope 2 GHG emissions are usually stated in carbon dioxide equivalents (CO2e). CO2e is a unit of measurement that makes it possible to compare the climate-damaging effect of different greenhouse gases.
Until 2020, the calculation of our Scope 1&2 GHG emissions focused on the consumption and resulting emissions of our main energy sources (gas, oil, electricity, district heating).
Since 2021, we have been reporting Scope 1&2 GHG emissions under our operational control in accordance with the GHG Protocol. Based on the complete recording of our data, we can target measures and investments where we see the greatest savings potential for our CO2 emissions.
To ensure comparability, the data from 2021 were used as an approximation for recalculating emission sources that have not been previously recorded and are not reproducible. The emission factors for calculating the „location-based“ emissions come from publicly available databases such as the Association of Issuing Bodies, the Institute for Global Environment Strategies, and the United States Environmental Protection Agency. To calculate „market-based“ emissions, direct information from utilities was used where available. For emissions from stationary and mobile combustion, the emission factors from the Federal Office for Economic Affairs and Export Control (Bundesamt für Wirtschaft und Ausfuhrkontrolle) were used. Sites closed or sold since 2017 were not included in the recalculation for consistency reasons in accordance with the GHG Protocol Corporate Standard.
The purchase of renewable energies and our energy efficiency measures led to a total reduction in CO2 emissions of more than 70,000 metric tons – equivalent to a reduction of around 52%. We thus exceeded our strategic target of reducing CO2 emissions by 50% (baseline 2017).
Scope 1&2 GHG Emissions (market-based) 2017-2022
Intensity Scope 1&2 GHG Emissions (market-based) 2020-2022
GHG Emissions Scope 3
We currently record and evaluate our Scope 3 emissions. Scope 3 includes all indirect emissions from sources that our company does not own or directly control, i.e., what happens in the upstream value chain and what results downstream from our business activities.
The initial results, including in the validated environmental statement from our Gronau (Germany) site, show that our Scope 3 accounts for around 95% (market-based approach) of the total emissions attributable to us. With 95%, the majority of our total emissions fall within Scope 3 and are therefore outside of our direct control. Nevertheless, we work with all relevant stakeholders, within the scope of our influence, to ensure that emissions are continuously reduced along the entire lifecycle.
We are already actively looking for ways to reduce the corresponding emissions. For example, further internal warehouse space was optimized in 2022 to avoid the use of external warehouses and additional transport. In addition, wherever possible and reasonable, we try to adjust order sizes – in consultation with our customers – so that transport capacities are utilized as optimally as possible.
However, the greatest opportunity for plastics processing companies to reduce Scope 3 emissions is the type of raw materials used. In the plastics industry, the use of sustainable raw materials (“sustainable feedstock“) is directly linked to drive circular economy (see Section “Circular Economy”).
To determine the GHG Protocol Scope 3 category “Employee Commuting“, we conducted a survey on our intranet at all sites and countries on the distance to the workplace and the choice of transport. Thanks to the numerous participants from our employees, we were able to compile representative data that will be used in our Scope 3 calculations.
Product losses along the value chain have a significant impact on the environment. In industrialized countries, more than 40% of losses occur at retail and consumer level. The material chosen for packaging must therefore ensure that product losses are kept to a minimum.
Choosing the right packaging material is supported by life cycle analysis – a systematic analysis of the potential environmental impacts and energy footprint associated with all stages of the life cycle of a commercial product, process or service.
Recent life cycle analysis results from the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research in Heidelberg (Germany) confirm that PE-based bags such as our FFS sack RKW ProVent®, prevent at least 2% product loss during transportation and storage. For CO2 intensive products such as cement, FFS PE sacks perform significantly better than paper sacks due to their protective and barrier properties (tear strength and moisture protection) and are therefore a beneficial solution that can minimize product losses and thus reduce the overall environmental impact.
Air pollution control
To ensure that our production processes generate as few harmful emissions as possible, we incinerate the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) generated in our printing processes in regenerative thermal oxidizers (RTOs) in accordance with local legislation.
The CO2 emissions resulting from combustion, in addition to the combustion of energy sources, such as gas and oil for heat and steam generation, account for a not insignificant share of our direct CO2 emission sources (Scope 1).
In order not only to keep the air as clean as possible, but also to make this as energy-efficient as possible, we are continuously optimizing our RTOs so that they can ideally run self-sufficiently (without feeding in additional fuel such as gas) and are also successively expanding heat recovery, of the heat generated by combustion.
The RKW Sustainability Community is a cross-functional team that works in working groups on sustainability-related topics. These include topics that are very important to us, e.g., closing internal and external raw material and recyclate cycles and reducing our CO2 emissions.
We benefit greatly from the expertise of employees from a wide range of specialist areas, which enables us to find excellent solutions through joint exchange. Another great advantage is the internationality of the team, which enables us to observe and take advantage of global developments and options.
Environmental protection campaigns
The local environmental protection campaigns at our RKW sites have become a central component of our annual sustainability campaign. They make a valuable contribution to the environment and serve as a model for sustainable commitment.
In Germany, employees at the Wasserburg, Gronau and Nordhorn sites carried out waste collection campaigns around the sites as part of their annual campaigns.
The Guangzhou site (China) honored the theme “We live sustainability“ with several activities at once: By promoting environmental awareness through posters and video messages, a walking activity, a garbage collection campaign, and a quiz on environmental protection.
Employees at our Saultain (France) site planted apple trees – for a healthy and sustainable supply of fruit for employees.
Acting sustainably – that was the goal of the sustainability campaign and the Global Team Run also served this purpose. Under the motto “Stronger Together,“ our employees motivated each other on the intranet to run, bike, walk or skate. In this way, 160 participants covered more than 63,000 kilometers from July 1 to September 17 and thus not only kept themselves fit, but also took the opportunity to reduce their carbon footprint.
“The systematic reduction of plastic waste and the promotion of recycling are quite essential for RKW to make a valuable contribution to maintaining a clean ecosystem. That‘s why we work every day to optimize our processes and operations along the supply chain to minimize the impact of our production on the environment, especially the contamination of water by plastic.“
Judith Hutschreuther, Sustainability Manager
Responsible and economical use of water is a high priority at all our company sites. The majority of the annual demand is used as cooling water for the extrusion lines, for steam generation, as washing water for our recycling plants and as sanitary water. Most of the water used comes from the municipal water supply, and another part (mainly for cooling) is taken from groundwater.
The resulting wastewater is not contaminated by additives or chemicals and can be discharged into the sewage system or discharged into the groundwater cycle without further treatment or purification.
Measures to reduce water withdrawal help to keep it as low as possible. For example, our site in Sweden was able to reduce its withdrawal of cooling water by 85% by installing dry vacuum pumps for the compounding plants.
In total, the RKW Group‘s water withdrawal from municipal water supply in 2022 amounted to around 130,000 cubic meters. We were thus able to reduce the absolute water withdrawal by 20,000 cubic meters, or by over 15% compared to 2017.
Water Intensity 2020-2022
Zero Pellet Loss
The “Zero Pellet Loss“ campaign is a joint initiative with the industry association Plastics Europe and the German Chemical Industry Association (VCI) and is part of the global “Operation Clean Sweep®“ project. While plastic pellets make up only a tiny fraction of the plastic waste in the ocean, the RKW Group is working hard to raise awareness of the issue, both at its own sites and together with suppliers and logistics partners within the industry.
We are committed to ensure that our own plastic pellets, powders and flakes do not end up in the trash or wastewater. We actively seek ways to reduce the escape of plastic pellets into the environment during production, storage, transportation and processing. RKW, along with numerous other companies, is therefore implementing the Zero Pellet Loss initiative at its sites. This was realized in cooperation with the two industry associations, with special support from the Industrievereinigung Kunststoffverpackungen e.V. (IK).
The first step in participating in the Zero Pellet Loss initiative was to conduct internal audits at all our sites. This involved identifying entry points such as the filling of silos, the transport of raw materials, and on the raw material lines. The necessary measures were then initiated to eliminate existing leaks and successfully obtain certification from the IK. All RKW sites are “Zero Pellet Loss“ certified. The measures are continuously monitored and optimized. In addition, training courses are held for employees at our sites.
In addition, we collect so-called “spills“, which are produced during cleaning measures in production, for recycling. These measures resulted in the return of over 360 tons of granulate to the plastics cycle in 2022.
“Rising volumes of waste, the pollution of the world‘s oceans and the threat of climate change make it clear: existing resources must be conserved and raw materials reused as far as possible. This is also made clear by consumer demand for environmentally compatible products and the requirement of demanding recycling quotas on the part of politicians. At the same time, we must continue to meet the high quality and safety requirements that customers and consumers place on our products. This is a challenge for the entire plastics industry, but one that we embrace, including with investments in modern technologies, recycling facilities at every RKW site and the increasing use of recyclates in our production. This Circular Economy approach saves valuable resources, prevents pollution and even improves the carbon footprint.“
Felix Grimm, Expert Recycling
The plastics industry is facing major challenges worldwide – in particular also due to the increasing environmental awareness of consumers and a changing legal situation. This makes it even more important for RKW to actively address the changes regarding product requirements and to set the course for the future development of the industry with innovative ideas. We acknowledge our responsibility to give plastic products a sustainable perspective. Therefore, we are making an active contribution to establishing a circular economy for this indispensable raw material and help to reduce the impact of our products while maintaining or even improving their properties. To this end, we are guided by the “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle“ principle.
What we do
In the context of innovative, sustainable product design, our employees worldwide optimize resource consumption, reduce negative environmental impacts of a product along its life cycle, or facilitate recycling and the use of recyclates. In intensive exchange with raw material producers and machine manufacturers, and through dedicated participation in associations, our research and development teams continuously develop and evaluate new or improved materials.
The requirements for these solutions differ significantly, depending on the regional markets and the product segments. Due to public interest, e.g., the focus in Europe is particularly on packaging films, and innovative solutions are urgently required. To meet these requirements, all projects in our research and development (R&D) pipeline in 2022 were categorized and evaluated based on various sustainability criteria. The target for the proportion of R&D projects in the Packaging & Industrial segment with a focus on sustainability was 60% in 2022 and was even exceeded at 67%. The aim is also to permanently align more than 60% of R&D activities with sustainability criteria in the coming years.
Sustainable product design
Plastics are usually obtained from petroleum derivatives and are therefore based on a fossil, finite raw material. We are committed to using this resource as sparingly as possible at all our sites and across our entire product range.
The most important lever here is downgauging – the production of ever thinner but still high-performance films. This is achieved by using innovative materials or improved raw materials and/or by optimizing formulations and production facilities. Also important in this context are the in-house development of components and control systems as well as regular, intensive training of our staff in production.
In all product groups, we develop innovative new processes together with our suppliers and customers and continuously test new or modified film types. One example of downgauging are our thin breathable RKW HyCare® and Aptra® films, which we have been supplying to our customers in the hygiene segment for years. With these products, we have not only been able to save raw materials, but also achieve other important benefits, such as greater efficiency in the processing line and a significant reduction in transport emissions. For other products in the feminine hygiene sector, downgauging even enabled raw material savings of 25%. In total, we have halved the average basis weight of our backsheet films over the last 20 years – and will continue to work on further optimization.
"Design for Recycling"
The prerequisite for a closed-loop Circular Economy is not only the most complete possible recycling of plastic products – it is at least equally important to enable or facilitate recycling by means of appropriate product properties.
A good example of such a product in the agricultural sector is Polydress® Twista, a clever combination of silage and barrier underlay film on one roll. Unlike other combination films, Polydress® Twista is made entirely of polyethylene (PE) and is therefore 100% recyclable. Thanks to a patented 2in1 folding technology, both films can be laid out on the silo in just one step. This saves 50% of working time, optimizes the placement of the films and avoids the risk of holes and tears when laying them out. The additional oxygen barrier of the underlay film contributes significantly to maintaining excellent silage quality – another contribution to the efficient use of valuable resources.
Raw materials from biomass
In addition to fossil raw materials, alternative raw materials are now increasingly being used in plastics production. These are obtained, e.g., from renewable sources such as sugar cane and have a comparatively low carbon footprint compared to fossil-based plastics, as the plants absorb CO2 from the atmosphere during their growth.
However, increasing focus is being placed on raw materials that are generated as waste or side streams in other industries, such as forestry or agriculture, and therefore do not compete with food production. Here, too, we have developed sustainable products in collaboration with customers and raw material suppliers, e.g., a bio-based plaster film that generates fewer CO2 emissions than a conventional film made from fossil raw material while maintaining the same quality.
Use of recycled materials
Our focus is on the increased use of recyclates in our production to reuse existing resources in the best possible way. In doing so, we also provide our know-how in the area of recyclates and recycling to our customers.
In 2022 alone, ERDE members collected and recycled around 38,476 metric tons of agricultural films and other agricultural plastics – an increase of almost 18% compared to the previous year. This corresponds to a saving of 42,748 tons of CO2.
This recycling rate fulfills all points of the “Voluntary commitment to take back and recycle used agricultural film“ submitted to the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Nuclear Safety and Consumer Protection (BMUV) in 2019. The ERDE initiative committed to recycle at least 65% of the silage and stretch film put on the market in Germany in 2022.
Transparency in the use of sustainable raw materials
For greater transparency in the use of sustainable raw materials and to counteract so-called “greenwashing“, various procedures have become established in the industry in recent years, such as ISCC+ certification (International Sustainability and Carbon Certification).
ISCC+ certification ensures along the entire value chain that no more sustainable raw materials are sold than were produced. Following the Petersaurach (Germany) site, our French site in Saultain will be also ISCC+ certified. Thanks to this certification, completely new sources of supply for sustainable raw materials are available and at the same time new marketing opportunities open up for our sustainable film solutions.
At the end of November 2022, the site in Kalefeld (Germany) received the RAL quality mark and is therefore in a position to produce certified formulations whose regenerates come from household collections (e.g., from the “yellow bag”). The site in Kalefeld has already been able to produce a first product, a trash bag for household waste, containing at least 40% regenerated material from the yellow bag.
Recycling and Reuse
Internal recycling of production waste
We use scrap either directly within the production process, between different processes, or even across sites. Each RKW site has its own recycling facilities in which scrap is processed into high-quality regranulate.
Both offline and inline processes are used. Off-line recycling means that the scrap is sorted and labeled during production, then collected and finally recycled. Inline recycling, on the other hand, uses special extruders with a low throughput rate that are attached directly to the production machines. They take up edge trims that are not needed, regenerate them into pellets and feed these directly back into the production process. Accompanying optimization measures are being implemented at all sites to ensure a higher reuse rate.
Further synergy effects are leveraged through cross-site cooperation: If the scrap generated on site cannot be used in production for technical or regulatory reasons, the regranulate is available to other sites within the RKW Group as a valuable raw material. In a close cooperation between the sites in Kalefeld and Nordhorn (Germany), a previously unused waste stream from Nordhorn was identified and qualified for reuse in production in Kalefeld within a few weeks. In the future, the site in Kalefeld will take all available residual films of this formulation from the site in Nordhorn, recycle them, and then use them as a raw material in trash bag production.
Production waste prevention
Avoiding production waste is one of our most important measures, not only to protect the environment and natural resources, but also to contribute to a sustainable growth. The most important levers for reducing the waste generated in the production process are optimized quality monitoring, the training of our employees, and the reduction of downtimes.
At almost all production sites, the produced films are monitored online for possible defects that could lead to large-scale defects or a deterioration in print quality in the further production steps. Through the mentioned quality control systems, but also through various other optimization measures, we were able to reduce the average production waste rate by more than 10% from 2017 to 2022.
At the site in Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam), 40 ideas were collected through a “Quick & Easy Kaizen Ideas Program“ e.g., for reducing production waste, and consistent root cause analyses were carried out, thus achieving a reduction in the scrap rate of a remarkable 19%. At the site in Helsingborg (Sweden), over 137 metric tons of waste were avoided by optimizing the screen change times of the compounding lines.
Consumables, packaging materials and transport
Additional savings potential can be leveraged by using consumables and packaging materials as efficiently as possible. For example, optimizing production processes means fewer filters and sieves are needed, while the intelligent use of packaging machines reduces our own consumption of stretch films. Another lever is the optimization of pallet sizes, through which we save valuable wood and loading space in trucks.
The site in Kalefeld (Germany) uses a thermal transfer printer, which saves system setup time and ink, particularly for small production batch sizes.
At the site in Wasserburg (Germany), plastic waste is now pressed – saving 13,000 kilometers of truck journeys each year. By optimizing or expanding the internal storage areas, emissions from truck trips to external warehouses have been massively reduced at the sites in Wasserburg, Ville le Marclet and Chambœuf (approx. 300,000 kilograms of CO2 per year in Wasserburg alone – not counting fine dust matter and other environmental pollution). In Vietnam, electric forklifts have been in use since last year, saving around 43,000 kilograms of CO2.
The site in Saultain (France) has switched some of the cardboard sleeves previously used to reusable PVC sleeves, thus saving five kilometers of cardboard sleeves. The site has also switched to repairing plastic pallets and cardboard sleeves instead of buying new ones.
This has saved 200 pallets to date. In another example, the cardboard tubes on which nonwovens are transported from the site in Gronau (Germany) to the nearby site in Nordhorn (Germany) for lamination are returned to Gronau for further use as part of regular transportation. Pallet return systems have also been established at most German sites.
However, the principle of reuse applies not only at the RKW Group‘s sites, but also to a particular extent to our products. One example of this is the RKW HyJet® crop cover, which offers plants protection from wind, dirt, wildlife and fungal attack. It consists of a hydroentangled spunbond nonwoven, which offers excellent tear and puncture resistance as well as higher elasticity compared to conventional nonwovens. Due to these features, the nonwoven can be used over several harvesting seasons.
Investments in innovation and technology
Internal recycling of production waste
For years, we have regularly invested in efficient and innovative technologies to reduce energy and resource consumption at our production sites and to support the expansion of a functioning Circular Economy for plastics. The focus is on recycling capacities and the reduction of production waste.
At the site in Kalefeld, investments were made in a new laboratory-extruder, which allows the quality of external recyclates to be continuously checked, thus ensuring optimum product quality. Investments in modern blown film extrusion lines and quality monitoring systems also play an important role in the increased use of regranulates and innovative raw materials, as well as for the thinnest possible but highly efficient films. With multilayer extruders, recycled material can also increasingly be used in films with high quality requirements.
A 5-layer line was started up at the site in Pori (Finland). At the site in Petersaurach (Germany), e.g., flexible and fully recyclable mono-PE films can be produced on a state-of-the-art 9-layer line. These are aimed specifically at the food and cosmetics industries and meet all requirements in terms of product protection and design. As an ISCC+ certified site, Petersaurach can also participate in the closed-loop recycling system for chemically recycled or bio-based raw materials.
The new plant thus enables innovative combinations of newly developed raw materials and formulations that lead, e.g., to further thickness reductions or improved recyclability. With the help of automatic plant controls and online quality monitoring, such as profile thickness control or 100% pressure monitoring, machine operators can react to process and quality deviations in the shortest possible time and avoid production waste.
“Nothing we do is worth getting hurt for. To take our workplace safety to the next level, we focus on strengthening the fundamentals of safety. We expect employees to take a leadership role and establish an “I care about my safety“ culture. We train essential capabilities, such as practical risk assessment to identify potential risks, conduct workshops to solve root cause problems to further develop our organization’s capabilities and reduce risks. We focus on implementing critical safety standards with a “Zero Tolerance” culture. At RKW, everyone is responsible for safety, and together we‘re taking the next steps on our RKW safety journey.“
Axel Löbel, COO
When it comes to safety, we promote the principle of “Never Compromise on Safety“ at all our sites worldwide. Accordingly, the focus is on the health and safety of employees at work, and the superior goal is “Zero Accident”.
We are convinced that risks can be reduced through technical and organizational measures, thereby permanently eliminating potential causes of accidents. However, some accidents are simply caused by human error. In order to eliminate these, the “Golden Safety Rules“ apply to all our sites. These operating principles are a compilation of best practices that cover the greatest risks and potentially dangerous situations in our company.
RKW Safety Academy
The RKW Safety Academy 2022 taught managers how to counter sources of accidents triggered by careless behavior. There, the site directors, production managers and QHSE managers could experience a mixture of psychological basics, interactive workshops and valuable, open and relevant discussions about prevention, health and safety – all instruments to change the culture of safety at the behavioral level.
Based on this, further safety training and regular safety and production tours are now being carried out at the sites to support and motivate operations leaders to give feedback and orientation. The tours can be digitally supported by an app, which makes it easy to document incidents or weak points and forward them to the right people.
At our global Safety Meeting at the end of the year 2022, the knowledge gained from the Academy was refreshed, supplemented by expert contributions, and the action plan for “Glidepath to Zero Accident“ was defined.
Johannes Heintges, Site Director at the Wasserburg site (Germany), RKW‘s largest European site, says: “This change starts with me as Site Director. If I consistently and reliably exemplify my attitude to occupational safety, while at the same time making organizational and technical changes that lead to immediate improvements, then I will also succeed in bringing my colleagues along with me.“
“Zero Cut” and “Zero Fire“
Group-wide initiatives such as “Zero Cut“ and “Zero Fire“ are leading to further improvements in working conditions. Although they appear to be a lesser hazard compared to accidents caused by energized systems or road traffic, cutting tools, individual or fixed to the machines, are the cause of many workplace injuries.
RKW has launched the “Zero Cut“ initiative. The aim of this initiative is to develop several safety recommendations and procedures and to raise awareness in the handling of blades. For example, the introduction of special safety knives has helped reduce the number of cuts.
As part of the group-wide “Zero Fire“ initiative, a harmonized risk assessment was carried out at all sites with regard to fire hazards and investments were made in the resulting preventive fire protection measures – e.g., for automated CO2 fire extinguishing systems. Fire drills are held regularly at the sites and employees are trained for special tasks or as fire safety assistants. At our Petersaurach site (Germany) , an extinguishing device was purchased for realistic fire simulations to prepare employees not only theoretically but also practically for a fire. A new fire truck was also purchased for our site fire department in Michelstadt (Germany).
A wide range of measures and tools ensure permanent safety in the workplace. These include Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), safety training, alarm systems, root cause analysis and 5S work design, and e.g., color-coded walkways.
In production, optimized and new technologies support, e.g., the monitoring of temperatures to prevent fires, the reduction of noise levels, the extraction of dust and solvents, and the use of lifting equipment for heavy loads (e.g., 25-kilogram bags).
Working environment and conditions at RKW are continuously monitored and additionally improved through regular audits and assessments by external companies. In order to comply with legal requirements, an electronic legal register has been introduced at all German sites for the areas of occupational safety, the environment and energy.
“Lagging” and “Leading KPIs”
Our progress with regard to occupational safety is closely monitored and tracked: via “Leading KPIs“, which measure the implementation of preventive measures, and via “Lagging KPIs“, which count the accidents.
For the “Leading KPIs,“ we track progress on zero cut, LockoutTagout (LOTO), evacuation drills, thermography, etc. The development with regard to “Zero Accidents“ is regularly tracked via the lagging indicators LTA (Lost Time Accident) and LTIFR (Lost Time Injury Frequency Rate) and shows significant improvements over the years.
Safety: LTA & LTIFR 2017-2022
We are convinced that safety must be anchored in the minds of all employees at all sites. Therefore, an internal safety competition is held every year across all sites: The “Zero LTA Award“ is given to all sites that have not had a lost-time accident for a full year.
In 2022, the “Zero LTA Award“ was presented to our German sites in Nordhorn and in Kalefeld as well as in Helsingborg (Sweden), with Helsingborg now receiving this award for the third time without an LTA.
Safety of contractors
To ensure not only the safety of our employees, but also the safety of all contractors and visitors, we have expanded the use of our online training system, which is used to instruct all externals regarding our local hazards and safety measures.
In addition to our occupational health and safety standards that also apply to externals, such as our “Golden Safety Rules” and PPE standard, contractor coordinators ensure that the various contractors are thoroughly briefed based on hazard assessments and given work permits for necessary hazardous work.
Maintaining the health of our employees is a top priority for us. With a wide range of measures for prevention and health promotion, RKW keeps its employees fit and prevents absences.
As part of the company health management (BGM) program, set out in an overall company agreement, specific campaigns are offered, such as voluntary flu vaccinations, healthy food options in the canteen (fresh fruit, salads, free supply of mineral water), annual participation in „Cycle to Work” and in the company run as well as discounted access to fitness studios and the job bike. In addition, our sites in Europe and Vietnam receive company medical care.
With our new Employee Assistance Program (EAP; starting in 2023), we will offer RKW employees and their families free and anonymous short-term professional counseling for health, career and personal issues.
We are also well positioned in the area of addiction prevention. We offer employees concrete help with corresponding company agreements and addiction support groups at the RKW sites.
Transparency and open communication are essential for long-term employee retention in any company and are key to preserving know-how and ensuring the company‘s success.
That is why we place a lot of emphasis on direct contact with our employees at all levels and promote this through global interactive and informative communication via our intranet and employee app ONERKW, employee surveys and our „CxO Open Door“ – virtual meetings with our senior executives and internal experts, in which questions or criticism can be addressed openly.
Beginning with a transparent and fair recruiting process in which open positions are offered both internally and externally, the individual development of our employees is subject to a structured process. Annual employee appraisals are held to discuss performance and potential, as well as opportunities for further development (e.g., through internal or external training measures), both at the existing level and for higher-ranking positions.
“As General Works Council Chairman for Germany and as Works Council Chairman for the Wasserburg site, there are enough topics that we have to deal with and discuss with our employer. Just to name a few topics, high inflation, rising energy prices, changes in the market situation. We also have to respond to the high employee turnover and the shortage of skilled workers. For me, it is always very important to shape the future together, to deal fairly with each other, and to find pragmatic solutions together. This gives the workforce security as well as satisfaction in the company.“
Hans-Jürgen Steinke, Member of the Supervisory Board (since 06/2023), Chairman of the General Works Council for Germany and Chairman of the Works Council at the Wasserburg site
We value employee representation in all countries where we have sites. In Germany, there are works councils at each production site, as well as a General Works Council. In accordance with EU law, we also have a European Works Council.
A collective agreement on working conditions has been concluded in the form of a collective agreement between the tariff parties. In Germany, there are two collective agreements for RKW: one for chemical companies and one for plastic packaging companies.
Depending on location, tariff and local conditions and laws, we offer our employees a wide range of additional benefits, e.g., health insurance in our European locations or health care insurance in the USA, supplementary nursing care insurance, company pension plan, continued payment of wages in the event of illness, maternity protection, parental leave and time off for further training. With the link to the collective bargaining associations, remuneration is always significantly higher than the respective local legal minimum wage.
Employees‘ working hours generally comply with local working time laws and are generally bound by collective bargaining agreements. At the same time, time compensation for overtime (overtime reduction in the form of free shifts or flextime) is regulated in the form of company agreements. In addition, all employees who are not bound to a shift system for production reasons, have the option of organizing their working hours flexibly. In combination with the option of working 60% of the weekly working time on a mobile basis (where possible), this creates flexibility for employees in organizing their working time.
“As a manufacturing company, we already traditionally have a lower proportion of women, which is why we pay special attention to promoting diverse teams. We believe that Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) not only creates a better world, but also brings economic benefits: Diverse teams, core competencies and leadership increasingly lead to innovation and improve financial performance. That‘s why attracting, supporting and developing diverse talents with diverse skills across the organization is both a human and a business priority. By signing the Diversity Charter and launching a global EDI policy, we are underlining our commitment in this area.“
Sabine Salah-Lampa, Head of Talent Management
The RKW Group is committed to the universal EDI goals: Promote diversity, recognize and reduce disadvantages, and realize equal opportunities. Closely related to this is the inclusion of people with different cultural and social backgrounds, worldviews, age structure, political and sexual orientation, and psychological and physical aspects.
We see diversity and inclusion as both a social obligation and an economic opportunity, because heterogeneous teams are often more productive and able to break down and renew entrenched structures – with benefits for people and the economy.
The establishment of an “EDI Task Force“ aims to integrate the diversity of employees into the RKW corporate structure and make the best possible use of their skills. We also conducted an extensive anonymous employee survey to determine the status and implemented corresponding work packages. These include systematic succession planning, mentoring program and promotion of women.
Employees who have been identified as talents in the succession planning process and who show ambition are accepted into an internal mentoring program. Trained specialists and managers are available as mentors to support the talents on their individual career paths.
The focus is on providing advice (e.g., passing on specialist knowledge, experience and tips, and arranging contacts from the company‘s own network), and promoting self-reflection and personal responsibility for one‘s own development. To enable interesting mutual experiences in mentoring partnerships, in which both sides grow and learn from each other, mentors and mentees ideally come from very different functions.
Learning objectives include the development of appropriate competencies to improve effectiveness, communication and interaction with other sites and countries, and the ability to continuously develop to successfully master new challenges.
Systematic succession planning
The systematic succession planning introduced in 2022 is tailored to the further development of diverse talent. To this end, the organization goes through a structured process every two years with the following objectives:
- Identification of system-critical positions and individuals for the purpose of personnel risk management
- Retrospective assessment of personnel development
- Determination of actual succession needs based on existing vacancies
- Overview of talent potential and determination of the corresponding readiness for change
- Targeted promotion of women in the talent nomination process
- Creation of development and action plans for identified talent (e.g., training/mentoring, cross-departmental business unit and cross-site role changes)
Promotion of women
RKW is gradually increasing the proportion of women. By doing so, we benefit from the advantages of diverse teams: they broaden horizons, improve the working atmosphere, promote creativity and are more successful.
We were able to far exceed our set target of 20% female representation in the entire RKW Group, currently at over 25%. We are also building on cultural diversity and continuous growth in this area: People from 46 different nationalities within and outside Europe are now part of our global team.
Particularly when it comes to personnel selection, we focus on diversity and the promotion of women. Through a multi-stage selection process, structured interviews and different interviewers, we promote objective perception and assessment. We also participate in various career fairs at schools, colleges, universities and business schools to attract new and diverse talents to RKW. In doing so, we actively seek exchanges with students from a wide range of backgrounds, nationalities and genders – because we see, appreciate and promote the strengths and opportunities of diversity, both for us personally and for the success of the company.