The circular economy needs holistic recycling solutions

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Way2K: Industry interviews in the lead-up to the K 2022 trade fair

“The circular economy needs holistic recycling solutions”
Interview with Alaaddin Aydin, Managing Director of Maag Germany GmbH

Mr. Aydin, how do we get to grips with the problem of plastic waste? That question is not an easy one to answer, and always depends on how plastic is handled. Where there is no infrastructure present, and no coordinated set of rules, the sensible handling of plastic waste is not possible. This is very harmful for us. The plastics industry alone cannot solve this problem. Politics, in cooperation with industry and trade, must set up the infrastructure and framework conditions to ensure controlled and traceable flows of recyclable materials, and prevent the transfer of risks to third countries.

How can the circular economy be pushed forward?
The plastics industry and trade have been working for some time on solutions to keep recyclables in the loop and increase the share of secondary materials in products. Manufacturers of plastic products are increasingly making their products recyclable and are also increasing the recycled content in their production. However, products must also be repairable – there is still a lot to be done on this point. Many products are not repairable and are still simply replaced when they are defective. Repairing must be worthwhile.

Here are two simple examples: Efficiency can be significantly increased with solutions for total predictive maintenance or online quality controls. The discussion must be objectified and solution-oriented. Plastics will then generally be part of the solution and not the problem. In the end, everyone must work towards a common goal – industry, politics, but also society.

We have already made good progress in Germany.
Yes, a lot is being done here, but there is also still a lot to do. There are many good initiatives by all parties involved. Topics such as resource efficiency, a climate-neutral circular economy and the creation of industrial infrastructures for a circular economy are often tackled in solidarity. However, most challenges can only be solved at European level or internationally. In addition to technological innovations, clear rules are needed that are as unbureaucratic as possible, apply to everyone, and ensure a level playing field.

What is the role of industry and, in particular, mechanical engineering?
Mechanical engineering is a solution provider, which is also how we see ourselves at Maag. We can offer solutions that avoid production waste, increase the drive towards the efficient use of energy and raw materials, and ensure recyclability at the end of a product’s life cycle. For example, plastics manufacturers are working hard on solutions to avoid composites and offer the same functions by mono-materials, making plastic products easier to recycle. There are advances in traceable recyclable material streams and identifiability of plastics for single-species recycling, both chemically and mechanically. One thing is certain: the circular economy needs holistic recycling solutions.

What role does digitalisation play in this?
It plays a decisive role. The more efficient production is, and the more secondary materials are used, the less the impact is on the environment. The topic of the circular economy is omnipresent in the news and the trade press, and companies are facing up to this challenge and the resulting tasks.

And what contribution do consumers need to make?
A shift needs to happen in the way of thinking within our society. As a consumer, it is not enough to complain about plastic waste streams in the oceans and the imminent climate change. We also have to change our own behaviour and treat raw materials and products with respect. This means, for example, that you don’t just replace a product because there is a newer model, but that you use it until the end of its physical or technological life. It also means that you don’t order three items of clothing and then return two. In the case of clothing, the trend towards fast fashion means that a significant proportion ends up in the bin without being worn. In the end, consumers also influence industry and trade through their purchasing behaviour.

What technological contributions is Maag offering to solve the problems?
We offer solutions for mechanical recycling among other things. At the heart of this is our high-performance Ettlinger melt filter, which can extract up to 16 percent weight volume from the plastic, depending on the application – with minimal material loss. Our sixth generation pumps, which are now also available specifically for recycling applications, can tolerate particle sizes of up to 4 millimetres, so that even in post-consumer recycling applications, service lives have been doubled. We also offer complete downstream solutions, including granulation. We have completely redesigned the granulators, so that the same size machines now have 40 percent more output. Availability of the systems has also been increased, and the service life of wearing components has been considerably extended, so that unplanned downtimes have been minimised. This in turn leads to considerably reduced production waste during the start-up and shutdown of the lines. Conversely, this means that we can offer smaller plants with improved performance and reliability, which entails less installation space, less energy input, less production waste and improved product quality.

 

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