CO2 footprint: an opportunity for the plastics industry

Stretch, cover and hide for the circular economy

With its comprehensive technology know-how, Engel supports its customers in the processing of recycled material. "The objective of recycling plastic waste is to consume less energy than you need to produce virgin material," Dimmler emphasises. "If you do this, the use of recycled material has an immediate positive impact on the CO2 footprint."

Engel uses three keywords, stretch, cover and hide to describe the different approaches that allow the use of recycled material for a wider spectrum of applications. Stretching refers to admixing recycled material with virgin material. Plastics processing companies benefit from the great plasticising and digitalisation expertise of Engel here. "If you have the right screw, any injection moulding machine can process an arbitrary concentration of recycled material up to and including 100 percent recycled material," says Dimmler. Additionally, smart assistance systems ensure that high-quality products can still be produced, even when facing major fluctuations in the raw material, which are typical of recycled plastic waste.

Covering means processing the recycled material with the use of IMD technology, such as Engel foilmelt or Engel clearmelt, along with a decorative foil or cover. And hiding means embedding recycled material in virgin material in a sandwich process, as enabled by the Engel skinmelt and coinjection technologies.

"Our objective is to replace the downcycling of products, which is still prevalent today, with recycling or even upcycling," says Dimmler. "This is what drives our development work forward. Engel technologies make recycled material usable, even for sophisticated products."

Information transparency through networking

The upcycling target is also supported by close cooperation among the companies along the value chain. From producing raw material, through processing to recycling and even further towards trade and the consumer, the market players are networking on horizontal platforms in order to exchange information and data. For example, the material, manufacturer and manufacturing process can be identified by means of a digital watermark on the packaging. This data is available to all participants and users of the horizontal platform. This enables more targeted sorting of plastic waste, resulting in single grade, high-quality recycling.

The R-Cycle initiative, which Engel joined in the spring of 2022, pursues precisely this goal. Thanks to digital product passports, R-Cycle has created the basis for a premium recycling process where information relevant to recycling is automatically recorded as early as in the manufacture of the product. "The precondition for closing material cycles is transparency of information across the entire value chain, an information cycle, so to speak," as Dimmler emphasises. "You can only ensure the desired product properties if you know what you are processing."

The circular economy is based on the interplay of all market players. For the process chain to work seamlessly, however, it is also important for each step in the overall process to be cost effective. "There can be no ecology without economy", Gerhard Dimmler is convinced. "This is the point where the circle closes in order to optimise energy consumption, CO2 footprint and, in turn, the cost structure. The plastics industry needs to act quickly to leverage the opportunities that innovative technologies present."