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Waste handling and recycling offers increasing value in converting, finds MJ Deschamps

In an economic climate where industries are trying to cut costs left, right and centre, it only makes sense that the converting industry at large – a key element of many manufacturing sectors – has been raising the bar when it comes to waste handling and recycling.

Silvana Ilari, spokesperson for Italian gravure printing and converting equipment manufacturer Rotomec – a subsidiary of Switzerland-based worldwide packaging supplier Bobst Group – says one of the biggest trends amongst European converters is a focus on sustainability: “Consumers are increasingly aware of the environmental impact of packaging production and disposal. As for converting equipment manufacturers, they continue to improve the efficiency of the equipment to satisfy the evolving market requirements and to ensure more eco-friendly sustainable operations.”

This, she says, is being achieved through reducing energy consumption and material waste, which at the same time enables companies to make cost savings that increase converting operation profitability. “The trend towards shorter production runs in label printing has made it essential to find efficient ways of limiting process waste,” she says.

In the specialised field of short production runs, for example, Rotomec’s MW60 and MW80 presses minimise waste in gravure printing through innovative press design and automation, and can be easily configured for specific labels application and finishing requirements. In regards to waste minimisation, explains Ilari, the MW 60/80 gravure press performance – in comparison to conventional gravure printing lines – offers typical savings in printing of 50% in reduction of web length in the press of flexible packaging production runs of up to 7,500m2; 47% less substrate wastage; 60% less ink usage; and approximately 18-20% lower costs reduction in the cost of printed reels, as an effect of reduced material and press downtime for job changeovers.

In Germany, flexible packaging converting machinery manufacturer Windmöller & Hölscher (W&H) recently unveiled its ‘Greenovation’ strategy, involving a commitment to developing high-quality machinery that conserves resources and reduces waste. Examples include its Novoflex C flexo-press – a direct drive high performance central impression sleeve press, which is designed for printing speeds up to 600m/min for flexible package printing. The system marks an increase in productivity over earlier models and reduces waste, by moving towards shorter runs.

W&H’s paper cement sack line, the AM 8105 – AD 8300 is also instrumental in the company’s waste reduction strategy. Since cement sacks are mass-produced – with little added value – even small improvements in production efficiency can have big effects in terms of resource savings. With the AD 8300, for example, smart roll end monitors at the unwinds ensure swift roll changes, meaning minimum waste.

Another innovation from W&H is its ‘Easy’ modules, which enable shorter job changes, reduce waste and automate changeover procedures. Easy-Set, for example – a fully automatic impressing setting system – can be integrated into all W&H flexo presses, and saves adjustments of impression and dosing gaps for re-runs, minimising waste and the time needed for impression settings. Compared with manual job change procedures, Easy-Set can save companies many thousands of Euros.

Meanwhile, Austria-based Starlinger, selling production lines for woven plastics packaging, has also long focused on reusable and recyclable packaging in retail and consumer sectors. In 2000, Starlinger founded a recycling division and related product line, recoSTAR. The recoSTAR universal, for instance, processes all types of films, fibres, fleece, tapes, fabrics, and thermoplastics.

All Starlinger’s machinery solutions allow for the efficient recycling of a variety of plastics, and PET especially, has an important economic advantage, as it can be ‘upcycled’; meaning recycled materials can be better than inputs.

Elfriede Hell, general manager of recycling technology at Starlinger, says a current trend is producers taking back conversion scrap when supplying new material: “A producer of film or sheet can either use the scrap directly, or has recycling equipment, and mixes own waste with conversion scrap.”

Regarding technology, she says, there are two major trends: central recycling, where one large unit works all kinds of waste, or, decentralised recycling, where a specific recycling unit works beside the production line, bringing inline produced regranulate back to the production extruder directly.

“In the case of only conversion waste, the waste is sold to a post-industrial recycler…depending on the understanding of the converter and/or requirement of the recycler, the converter will take care of materials management and thus get more money for the collected material,” says Hell.

In the USA, flexible packaging converter Accredo Packaging has only been up and running since 2009, but is already leading the industry in the area of sustainability. Its Texas plant was designed to meet Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Silver certification standards (the recognised US standard for measuring building sustainability) and utilises 100%

wind-generated electrical power with a focus on eliminating waste while minimising its carbon footprint. The company made a major breakthrough, for example, with its cutting edge stand-up pouch made entirely from certified compostable components.

USA-based high-quality converting equipment manufacturer for the plastics blown film industry, CMD Corp has also been focusing on sustainability in its machinery: the newest generation of CMD equipment is its ‘Global’ range of machines that feature a reduced footprint and lower machine overhead, streamlining the converting process by combining several pieces of machinery into one (for instance a film unwind and a bag sealing machine).

Back in Europe, the UK’s Accrol Papers is one of the continent’s largest independent paper converters with a manufacturing capacity in excess of 40,000 tonnes/year. A converter of mainly soft tissue products, most products are made using wood pulp, but, in an effort to reduce the impact of their activities on the environment, Accrol has been putting initiatives in place to increase its use of recycled tissue in manufacturing.

For example, the company uses tissue manufactured from 100% recycled fibre, with the majority of it sourced from post-consumer waste supply streams via local authority kerbside collections and bona fide waste management organisations.

“At the moment, in terms of our production waste, Accrol is selling out about 4,000 tonnes – that’s basically tissue waste generated by our own production process. In addition, we are buying about 15,000 tonnes a year of waste-based products,” says executive director Majid Hussain. He added, however, that while many converting companies have been moving towards waste management in recent years, “companies are not actually increasing the production of waste-based products – it’s much too costly.”

There has been plenty going on in terms of machinery development, though, making it easier and more efficient for converting companies to recycle, says Hussain.

“Whereas before, waste management was a manual process, now, everything is automated,” he says, adding that in the Accrol plant, the switchover to automatic machinery happened about three years ago.

And with European Union (EU) legislation in place, such as the waste framework directive, pushing industry towards more reuse and recycling of materials, European companies are increasingly gravitating towards meeting waste handling targets.

“Legislation isn’t forcing us to make a shift, but it’s certainly incentivising us,” comments Hussain, noting that cost savings and legislation go hand in hand.

On the packaging side of the business, Hussain says Accrol is taking steps to move away from regular, plastics packaging to compostable packaging, adding: “the only reason why we have not made a wholesale move is because compostable packaging is much higher in cost.”

Consumer demand for recycled products in converting processes can justify higher production costs, Hussain says. However, the global recession and continued economic tough times have caused a slight bump in the road when it comes to the willingness of consumers to pay more for ‘greener’ production: “Whereas two or three years ago people were willing to pay a bit extra because recycled products are more ‘environmentally friendly’, now, people aren’t as willing to pay that slight premium.”

Windmoeller & Hoelscher’s Varex blown film line is one example of the company’s dedication to economical use of resources, short start-up and change-over times along with reduced waste and high productivity Windmoeller & Hoelscher’s Varex Rotomec’s MW 80 minimum waste, high performance rotogravure web press meets customers’ needs in terms of expanded volume and printing materials, while reducing waste Rotomec’s MW 80

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Bobst (Rotomec)
Windmöller & Hölscher