I also asked these “green” questions and reported on my experience with the budding young engineers in my introductory talk at the PETnology Conference last November. In numerous subsequent conversations, many colleagues and PET specialists have confirmed these experiences and perceptions. There is a lot to do — let’s get to it.
It is clear that as engineers, we strive to develop the best possible solution in accordance with our professional ethics. All of the companies in the PET value-added chain clearly strive to continually improve the sustainability of the respective products.
Technological progress was at the fore of the PET PASSION WEEK, which consisted of the PETnology Conference followed by the PETarena at the BrauBeviale. With the previously outlined goals in mind, we all worked hard to give plastic packaging the reputation that it deserves.
During these days centred on PET, the focus shifted to the following questions: Which technological and technical developments contribute to ecological sustainability, and to what extent? There are mechanical engineering, process engineering, material-specific and also logistical starting points along the entire PET value-added chain. What is the significance or relevance of these developments with regard to economy, and do they offer the right approach to more sustainable packaging? Will these new measures make PET packaging more acceptable in society and particularly with millennials, so that the decision to buy and use PET is made with conviction and without pangs of guilt? I agree with Mr de Jong in this respect, who claims: “It requires even more of a joint effort to ensure that PET packaging and plastics in general can be used without guilt.” (You can find his interesting article on page 26)
Our industry will probably never be green enough; there will always be potential to further optimize sustainability and the conservation of resources. Ultimately it all comes down to this: Being green means conserving resources. However, this does not mean the same thing for every company; the priorities vary wildly. Conserving resources ranges from energy conservation to the use of bioplastics.
Out of the many conversations at the conference it became clear that being green is only rarely a question of ideology, but mainly a question of money, of profit. A shame!?
Whilst in recent years many mechanical engineers have optimised their machines to require less space and energy with a higher output capacity, the new process from the LiquiForm Group goes even further, incorporating moulding and filling into a single step and eliminating an entire machine. “With the LiquiFormTM process, we manage to simultaneously save energy, save space and substantially reduce the carbon footprint”, explained Ann O’Hara, the President (see page 92).
The efforts of many companies to further reduce bottle weight and therefore also reduce raw material use can also be described as green. For this reason, different approaches to optimising the bottle base design were introduced at the conference, such as the Xtreme process from Sipa as well as both the Preblow process from Netstal and the Mint-Tec process from Creative Packaging Solutions (see page 88). Even if the driving force behind this is a reduction of the raw material costs, which of course make up the main part of the total costs of a product, the efforts nonetheless lead to the conservation of resources.
Recycling is a central theme in the “green” context. There are not only very different views on this topic, there are also different approaches. Here, too, implementation is not just a question of ideology. A comparison of the prices for recyclable material with the prices for virgin resin makes this very clear. The currently low price of raw materials in the PET industry means that the use of recyclable materials is not quite as enticing, unless, of course, the use of recyclable materials makes sense for marketing purposes, for example to impress the consumer with a product. But this is once again a question of monetary interests. On the other hand, PET-Recycling is well-established in the industry. Bottle-to-bottle recycling is hardly a topic of conversation, as the installed systems run without a hitch. Meanwhile, recyclable materials are also being integrated into the virgin resin manufacturing process. There are two types of processes. “There is the one pellet solution, in which the recyclate is integrated before pelletizing, and the one bag solution, where the recyclate is added to the virgin resin manufacturing process before the SSP” explains Andreas Christel, Director of Process Technology at Polymetrix AG in Oberbüren in Switzerland — who, as he says himself, is driven by recycling. In his opinion, recycling processes which do not recycle the PET post-consumer waste back into its original use are inadequate. “Another industry benefits from downcycling — it is not conducive to meeting goals.”
Nevertheless, there is a large market for this. Paul Niedl, Head of Sales at Starlinger & Co. GmbH, Vienna, on the topic: “The staple fibre market is still the largest market for PET post-consumer waste.” Additionally, there is demand for plants to process flakes into sheet and also demand for post-consumer waste, which can then be used to produce high quality fibres for the sports clothing industry.
There was agreement among the presentations that the variable quality and quantity of the flows of recyclable materials poses problems for the whole industry.
Our suspicions were also confirmed that the willingness to be “green” or make “green” choices is all too often a question of money for consumers as well. “Whether individuals and society explore the question of waste avoidance and resource conservation is a question of mentality“, says Philippe Blonda, Marketing & Sales Director at the Belgian company Resilux N.V. in Wetteren. And the interests which do not originate from the consumers themselves or appeal to consumers for financial reasons should be regulated by political bodies. All parties to the conversation would like clearer positions and guidelines. “Our deposit system works very well, so why isn’t this extended to juice bottles and/or other hollow body packaging?”, says Volker Neubauer, Managing Director of Ettlinger Kunststoffmaschinen GmbH in Königsbrunn.
It seems that “green” oriented attitudes are always a combination of different factors that include lightweighting, recyclate and new cap solutions, just as much as individual attitudes and meaningful political guidelines. Sensible strategies for logistics, on site production and sustainable transportation solutions are also part of the overall package. There is a lot to consider, to develop and to put into action.
State of the art green technology