With recycling firmly established as a prerequisite for circularity, the outlook for plastics recyclers and manufacturers of recycling equipment is one that is especially bright.
At K 2019, Erema Group GmbH is presenting itself as one of the foremost drivers of the transition to a circular economy, with a stand inside and a demonstration set up in its Circonomic Center on the fairgrounds outside.
More than 35 years ago, Erema began manufacturing recycling systems for production waste. Today, this division accounts for upward of 50 percent of the company's total sales and, as the industry continues to strive for more circularity, this percentage is set to climb. This growth notwithstanding, one of the issues still faced by plastics converters is the quality and consistence of the supply of recycled material. For the circular economy to succeed, obviously this issue must be addressed.
For CEO Manfred Hackl, the way forward is clear: "I consider this a task for the industry as a whole," he declared. "As long as the collectors, sorters and recyclers are unable to provide assurance to major brand owners that the material they require will be available in a constant quality over a longer period of time at a specified price, they will not base a product design on regranulate."
At the same time, waste management companies are increasingly broadening their reach, taking on responsibility for the steps from disposal to sorting all the way through to recycling. "Or they participate in company consortia that cover these links in the supply chain," Hackl said — projects that are often driven via brand owners, as they require a reliable supply of 10,000, 50,000 or 100,000 metric tons per year, he added.
"At Erema, we are addressing this issue by technical developments like our QualityOn package for continuous quality monitoring of color and MVR values and, brand new, for monitoring the material composition. Besides, Erema always seeks collaboration with customers and companies along the plastics recycling chain to develop the recycling solutions for the wide-ranging requirements even further with this shared knowledge," he said.
Recycling technology, meanwhile, continues to advance to keep pace with these developments and, in the three years since the previous K show, has evolved in terms of process stability, filtration and odor minimization, all leading to higher quality, Hackl noted. The industry has also taken strides in preparation for Industry 4.0.
"Digitalization is fundamental for further development. It enables more efficient networking within companies and industry but also with customers and suppliers. It offers diverse potential for creating new solutions for plant operation and new smart services," he said.
To enable its customers to benefit from this potential, the company has developed a new customer portal, called BluPort, that is being presented at the K show for the first time. "BluPort brings together decision-relevant information — for example, the My Recycling Plant dashboard, the amortization calculator — and service offers such as the spare parts online web shop, maintenance videos, and more, and it will also be a platform for new applications," Hackl explained.
For Erema, the high point at K 2019 is the Circonomic Centre, situated outside on the fairgrounds (FG/09.1). Plastic waste collected from the show will be recycled here, as part of a live demonstration, where visitors can experience the circular economy.
"Circonomic is a word we created from circular and economy," Hackl said. "It expresses what we want to achieve, namely the integration of recycling know-how into the plastics value chain, so that our industry, the environment and society as a whole, can gain ecological and economic benefits from it."
Next to digitalization, the circular economy is the second challenge confronting the plastics industry and society as a whole. As Hackl pointed out, the pressure to develop solutions for closed loops has grown rapidly over the past two years.
"Recycling must become a fixed link in the plastics chain, and the players in the plastics industry can only achieve this together. The willingness to collaborate is increasing as the number of collaboration projects we will be presenting in our Circonomic Centre demonstrates, and I'm convinced that the European plastics industry, with its recycling know-how, can become a role model for other regions."
The Circonomic Centre is hosting daily live recycling demonstrations, in which different materials, such as post-consumer material, film- or injection molding waste from various sources, are reprocessed into high-quality recyclate.
"And we also provide an overview of the range of products that can be and already are made of recyclates. This exhibition is supported by the members of Plastics Recyclers Europe," Hackl noted.
Erema is partnering with recyclers, processors, other equipment manufacturers as well as raw material manufacturers and branded goods companies to advance the circular economy.
For example, in May, a system developed by Erema, Italian machinery company Sipa SpA, Japanese recycler Kyoei Industry Co. Ltd. and Japanese brand owner Suntory Beverage and Food Ltd. won a World Star Packaging Award. Their technology makes food-grade PET preforms directly from 100 percent post-consumer washed flake.
"These and a steadily increasing number of cooperations show that we can achieve a functioning Circular Economy if we bundle the expertise of plastics recycling companies, machine manufacturers and brands," he said.
Erema's company vision states that, "In 2030, the Circular Economy for plastics will be realized." How realistic is that?
Hackl said: "I'm optimistic that in 10 years, the plastics industry will have developed and implemented solutions for a sustainable use of plastics already in many areas. However, creating solutions will still be challenging for the industry and the society."
He noted that one obstacle in achieving higher rates of recyclates in new products was that recyclable material is not recycled.
"To meet the European Union's recycling targets ,we have to increase the collection rates for recyclable plastics. Other crucial points are design for recycling and the development of markets for regranulate and new end products," he said.
"Meanwhile it is clearly recognized from the EU as well from the entire plastic industry that we have to work together. By defining recycling targets, the EU has done a great step. If that's enough or whether also financial or infrastructural support is needed, will become evident in the next two to three years," he added.
He added that Erema is also expanding its headquarters in Ansfelden/Linz as "one of our responses to the increasing demand." The groundbreaking ceremony for the construction of additional production and office space took place at the end of March. Completion is scheduled for spring 2020.
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