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Sustainable, profitable, and comfortable with retailers’ demands
Legion are the processors trying to earn a profit while also balancing their sustainability goals. MPW spoke with David Brookes, technical/processing manager at flexible plastics processor CeDo, about his company’s sustainability efforts, the challenges these create, and the rewards they have reaped. MPW: When did CeDo really start using more recyclate in its recipes?
October 13, 2009
6 Min Read
Legion are the processors trying to earn a profit while also balancing their sustainability goals. MPW spoke with David Brookes, technical/processing manager at flexible plastics processor CeDo, about his company’s sustainability efforts, the challenges these create, and the rewards they have reaped.
MPW: When did CeDo really start using more recyclate in its recipes?
Brookes: We’d traditionally used small amounts of it, but only for a limited number of products. Then in 2007 we started to develop the EcoMin concept.
Brookes: Yes, to maximize the amount of postconsumer recyclate and chalk [calcium carbonate] we could include in our products. We thought it would really set us apart; we saw an advantage in the market that we could take. Plus, it helped us meet our cost reduction requirements.
The EcoMin recipes now are about 60% PCR [postconsumer recyclate], about 30% chalk—really 26%-27% net as it’s a masterbatch—and then about 10% virgin material.
MPW: Where do you source the PCR?
Brookes: In 2002 we bought the recycling factory in Holland. Prior to that, we’d been buying on the open market. But buying the recycling plant was key; under our own control, we can control the quality and the pricing. Over the last 10 years, there has been lots of pricing pressure from [imported flexible plastic products] from the Far East. The Asian imports were doing a lot of damage and reducing the market value; those imports were being sold at unsustainable prices.
At the moment we’ve extended trials running recyclate from the building and construction industry; we’re also doing work with PCR bottles. If these trials work, they could help us replace even that 10% of virgin material.
MPW: What sort of output do you have in the Geleen, Netherlands plant?
Brookes: We process in the order of 35,000 tonnes of material there each year, producing about 24,000 tonnes of PE pellets. Most of that [recyclate] is sourced from ag film. Our customers really like that as it’s closing the loop, since so many of our customers’ products come from these very same farms.
Also, there’s a waste stream in Geleen, about 8 tonnes of material. A lot of that is water, which we use to help run the plant; it’s almost water positive, funny enough. Other waste is cleaned by us and sold—for instance, as filler in concrete.
MPW: Recycling agricultural film must require a lot of washing.
Brookes: Actually, most of it is very clean, as it’s wrapped six to eight times. But yes, recycling plastic film is more difficult than recycling rigid plastics. About 12 months ago at the Geleen plant we invested €3 million-€4 million in a fourth line. It’s one of the few plants in the world able to handle this quantity of recyclate. It’s the only plant in Europe with EN 15143—traceability of feedstocks—approval. We earned that in 2008; it’s a relatively new norm.
But again, our customers really appreciate that. We’re able to come in with the appropriate pricing the market expects, but with this added value. Apart from doing the right thing, we’re able to offer our customers something unique and gain an added-value position. The whole thing is a bit holistic.
MPW: What about your plant in China?
Brookes: We have a 25,000-tonne/yr processing facility in China, near Shanghai, for applications that cannot be fully automated, such as zippered bags.
MPW: Is CeDo interested yet in processing of bioplastics?
Brookes: We’ve been following developments there for about 10 years. It’s an interesting market. For film, there aren’t many materials that are suitable. PLA, for example, is sort of stiff.
In the UK, there also were problems initially with bioplastics as retailers were concerned about GMO [genetically modified] corn. So far, there’s very little penetration [of bioplastics]. Plus, consumers don’t yet understand many of the terms . . . it comes down to whether local authorities are willing to pay for these [bioplastics].
What we’ve done is give ourselves the most sustainable product we can. Across the group, CeDo’s business is about 110,000 tonnes/year of polyethylene products, of which about 20,000 tonnes is chalk-filled and about 50,000 is PCR. We try our best to mitigate any affects on the environment of our products.
MPW: Do CeDo’s sustainability efforts motivate its workforce?
Brookes: That’s difficult to say. The workforce knows and is aware that—for instance, carrier bags have gotten a lot of bad press.
MPW: Going forward, what’s on the planning board?
Brookes: One thing we’re doing, and it takes a lot of time and effort, is working with, for example, Rapra [Smithers Rapra, a leading plastic consultancy] to help understand and develop plastics initiatives. Also, through this year we’re a participant in the Plastics 2020 initiative to help improve plastics’ reputation in the UK. We try to do the right things, and it makes it easier for everyone managing the accounts.
MPW: What problems are posed when using so much recyclate and chalk?
Brookes: Using different levels of recyclate does cause some problems. We produce different grades of recyclate and then we form a cocktail of these to mitigate this.
The only drawback to running chalk is its density and managing this in the plastic. We’ve done that by ensuring the blender is right above the extruder’s hopper, or at least to keep the distance between the two as short as possible.
There are more positives than negatives in processing chalk-filled compounds. Because we don’t need to melt the chalk—we only really need to melt the 70%-73% of the compound that is plastic—we see energy savings of 5%-10%. We’ve 43 extruders in Telford, mostly co-ex lines, and spend about £1 million on electricity there alone each year, so the savings are a big deal.
MPW: Any new technology caught your eye?
Brookes: We’ve invested in some water chillers. We’ve also bought some power refinement equipment; it helps optimize the electrical supply voltage, improves the power quality. We’re also looking at the next generation of gearbox-less extruders; that’s a big one.
We’ve recently invested in some container de-stuffing equipment; it makes it easier for an operator to stack pallets. We also just invested in a device for auto-wrapping of pallets; this has been a big one for quality and streamlining things.
MPW: And the business?
Brookes: We’re still growing, not seeing any retraction in volume. We’ve won new business by matching on price; supplying effectively, locally; and offering these added values—low carbon footprint, PCR use, and more. It helps you win over the retailers. —Matt Defosse
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