In the lead-up to K 2022, the German Mechanical Engineering Industry Association VDMA is publishing a series of interviews with leading businesspersons in the industry, under the title Way2K. Here, Thomas Stegmeier, head of Sales at AZO GmbH & Co. KG talks about how, as he transition to the circular economy, gains pace, the use of recyclates in plastic products will increase.
Has AZO already adapted its product range correspondingly?
As a manufacturer of material handling systems, we know that raw materials can vary in terms of properties. This is true for virgin plastics, but even more so for grinding stock used in recycling applications. Not all grinding stock is the same, even if the starting product is identical. The flow properties of the grinding stocks are also determined by the way they are processed, mainly by particle size and shape, but also residual dust content. So, processes such as shredding and grinding, washing and sorting exert an influence. We have already developed special discharge systems here so that ground materials can be reliably discharged. In addition, special wear-resistant protection for the systems also plays a role in some applications.
How does it work?
In pneumatic conveying, for example, the conveying of the product causes both internal friction and friction with the stainless-steel pipe. If the material to be conveyed is impure because it contains fillers such as chalk or glass dust – this often happens with recycled window profiles, for instance – these substances wear down the surfaces of the system. Our wear-resistant protection means that the systems can operate for longer.
So AZO also benefits economically from the increased use of recycled materials?
Recycling is clearly a growth industry. Not least because of European legislation, all manufacturers are now required to switch to recyclates, at least to some extent. This comes in handy for us at AZO. Grinding stock and recyclates create new challenges in the area of material handling and we, as experts, have solutions at hand. And if we don't know a product, we examine it in our laboratory and test centre. This also applies to completely new processes.
Can you give us an example?
For example, we are involved in a project to recycle household waste. Without separating it first, mind you. This waste contains plastic residues, cardboard, and paper, but also organic components. There is a process on the market that brings all these materials together and creates a completely new product from them. This can then be used as filler in other applications. This has two advantages: One is the recycling of household waste that would otherwise be incinerated. Secondly, this whole process has a negative CO2 footprint. If you then incorporate this product into your own products, their CO2 footprint is reduced accordingly.
How does this come about?
Various factors are responsible for this. For example, storing organic waste produces methane, a greenhouse gas. Since it is no longer stored, this is no longer the case. Since the waste is no longer incinerated, no additional emissions are produced either as a result. The whole thing is a very exciting process that is still in its infancy. But we will certainly hear about it in the future.
A lot is already happening in Europe in terms of recycling. What about elsewhere?
We note that the processing of grinding stock and recyclates still plays a minor role in some regions of the world. Post-industrial recycling, i.e. the return of production waste to the manufacturing process, is already practised across the board, not least for economic reasons. The situation is somewhat different with post-consumer recycling. On the one hand, this is due to non-existent or inefficient waste collection and separation systems in those countries, and on the other hand, there is a lack of political framework conditions that provide appropriate incentives; both are essential prerequisites for a functioning circular economy. However, we also notice that other countries are already aware of the systems that users are setting up here in Germany. As machine and plant manufacturers, we are all globally positioned. We can help to spread this trend around the world.