The downturn in the economics of the plastics recycling industry forced Starlinger & Co. to step back and reassess.
The result is a brand-new recycling system that was unveiled at K 2016 that's aimed at creating more value in one particularly challenging area of the business.
Starlinger's recoStar Dynamic C-Vac system combines three different technologies to tackle particularly odorous recycled plastics that come in contact with materials like shampoos and soaps, fuel and even sour milk, for example.
Some smell good; some smell bad. But all of them just plain smell. A lot. And that's a problem for recyclers.
“We've developed a new technology to remove odor from recycled polymer. The reason we've done this is because, in some instances, an increased use of recycled polymer that has an odor is too overwhelming and doesn't allow the customer to get the proper amount of recycled material back into the new product,” said Alan DiUmberto, sales manager of the Recycling Division of American Starlinger-Sahm, the company's U.S. unit.
“What we've done through our three-step process is be able to remove the odor. And then, in turn, the customer can increase the amount of recycled material that's used in the product because there's no offensive odor to keep him from doing that,” DiUmberto said.
The new system first densifies and heats material, a process that helps removes surface moisture, before the polymer moves through a melt filter, degassing, extrusion and pelletising prior to moving into what the company calls the Smell Extraction Unit. Details about this last proprietary step, DiUmberto said, are not being released to the public. He called it the system's “black box.”
The process creates 300% more surface area at one point to increase the effectiveness of degassing, which helps remove odor, when compared to a typical approach, he said.
While there's a bit of secrecy surrounding some portions of the process, the sales manager did talk about the economics of the unit in a general sense, claiming the step is affordable to anyone in the plastics recycling business.
“It's very economical to own,” he said, without sharing the exact cost. “The most important thing is every recycler can own this. It's not out of anybody's reach.”
Tackling the odor issue for this type of challenging recycled plastics is important these days as recyclers struggle with turning profit.
The unit, DiUmberto said, can take lower-value, odorous plastic and create additional value beyond typical processing.
“The closer we can get a product back to virgin grade, the more value it has for the customer. So that's what we're trying to do,” he said. “Any product has a certain lifecycle, ‘cradle to grave' they call it. What we're trying to do is trying to get this product out of the grave. We're trying to extend the lifecycle of recycled plastics.”
With virgin resin prices falling due to lower oil and gas prices, DiUmberto said his company had to re-examine its place in the industry and find ways to help customers make it in this more-challenging atmosphere.
“It's been extremely difficult,” he said about the reduction in polymer prices. “They forced us to look at other areas where we can improve the profit to help people bring it back in. You either learn to survive by morphing into another type of product or you die.”