“We need a second market for film waste”. Circular economy comes more to the fore at Brückner
| Subj: Press-releses
Interview with Helmut Huber, CEO of Brückner Maschinenbau
Which role does circular economy play at Brückner?
Helmut Huber: Circular economy becomes more and more important. Therefore, we also see our overall responsibility as a link in the chain. Plastic has proved to be a very good material over the past 20 years. That is why the amount of it will grow considerably over the next 20 years as well. However, we also notice that a lot of plastic waste worldwide ends up on waste disposals or in the sea. It is a fact that plastic is valuable as a material. Nobody wants to forgo its many advantages like weight reduction or the extension of food life periods. Circular economy can show that you can use the advantages of plastic without having to accept the disadvantages.
How does Brückner contribute to circular economy?
Huber: The waste of our plants is immediately being repelletised and returned to processing. 30 to 40 per cent are added to the homopolymer during the process. On the whole, we can refeed more into the plant than normal production waste is generated. Additionally, waste, which is generated by cutting off the edge strips, is immediately hashed to flakes in the edge strip granulator, blown back and directly dosed in the so-called mixer again. We call that inline recycling.
We also participate in bigger working groups and engage in circular economy there. One of them on the European level is CEFLEX. It includes many companies along the entire value chain of the area of flexible packaging to find ways to improve circular economy also for films. In China, for example, there is a second market for film waste. People collect the waste and use it for other products like injection moulding products. We might also need such a second market for film waste.
Are there technical limits for the use of recyclates in plastic film production?
Huber: Yes, there are. If you exceeded the 30 to 40 per cent share of recyclates, problems in the process could arise, for instance by impurities. Such particles can change the molecular structure. This can lead to a tear-off during the stretching of the film. If you want to add recyclate you have to closely observe the quality.
Can digitalisation help with this?
Huber: It could improve the batch tracing. That is still difficult today. It would be preferable, though, if you could tell in advance how good a re-granulate is. In general, Industry 4.0 could be useful for circular economy. Since it is always about the integrative usage of quality data. If we connect in all directions and also include the processing machines and the machines for regranulation, besides our own plants, I could imagine that apart from a better control of the materials, another type reduction could also be achieved. When you know the qualities, you could possibly also reduce the thickness further.
Are films still getting thinner?
Huber: It depends on what the film is supposed to do. It reaches from a monolayer, a pure material, to packaging films, which may consist of up to three to five layers. Multilayers are needed if you want functionally different properties. The higher the number of layers, the more we want to concern ourselves with the topic of recycling and, before that, with the collecting and sorting of these products.
Would it not be better to rely on thicker monolayers because they are better to recycle?
Huber: This could be an alternative in individual cases. However, when we need a high barrier, for example against ingressing oxygen, it could be that you have to laminate film made of polypropylene with polyethylene on the outside. When you think of a tetra pack, however, which has an additional aluminium film inside, so that it keeps the orange juice inside for example, then this is not possible with only a thicker layer. Then you need a multilayer composite. However, we can already produce multilayer films with barrier layers which can replace aluminium. It is important that it is already determined during the design phase how these five or seven or nine layers will be recycled. There are already recycling methods today with which multilayer films can be divided into single layers in a reactor. Those can be recycled again.
Can films also be made from bio-plastics?
Huber: Films can definitely be made from bio-based plastics. Due to their technical properties and their profitability, these materials did not yet have a break-through, however. Some of the properties still cause problems, for instance regarding printability or thermostability. The cost factor plays a decisive role. The oil-based materials that are currently used are so coveted because they offer a good combination of profitability and excellent technical properties. If there were bio-based plastics which were economically producible, we would already have concepts available. We are closely observing the market and consider which packaging could be made of which resources in the future. We would wish for more innovation, but it should come from the resource manufacturers. It will take some time before bio-based plastics will enter the fields of application, some of them which are very demanding. Especially the price needs to go down — and this is only possible with larger quantities.
Interview series “Circular Economy”
Plastics are used everywhere. As a crude oil product, they are valuable because they consist of finite natural resources. However, the potential of plastics is by no means exhausted yet. This should and must be changed. The EU Commission has defined plastics as one of five key areas in its Circular Economy Action Plan. The plan is a commitment to preparing a strategy which is to approach the challenges of plastics over the entire value creation chain and the complete life cycle.
The companies that are organised in the VDMA Plastics and Rubber Machinery Association are following this path, too. With their commitment to the sustainability initiative Blue Competence, they stand for responsible and foresighted thinking and acting. They already today work on concepts on how they can play a part in circular economy. Within the scope of the plastics processing trade fair Fakuma, which takes place from 17–21 October in Friedrichshafen, the VDMA lets seven of these companies express their views in an interview series.
About VDMA Plastics and Rubber Machinery
More than 200 companies are members of the association, covering more than 90 percent of the branch production in Germany. Ten percent of our member companies come from Austria, Switzerland and France. The German member companies represent sales of EUR 7 billion in core machine engineering and EUR 10 billion including peripheral technology. Every fourth plastic machine produced in the world comes from Germany; the export rate is 70 percent. Ulrich Reifenhäuser, Member of the Management Board of the Reifenhäuser Group, is the chairman of the association.