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Road to circular economy

Foam manufacturing is becoming more and more challenging in the aim to reduce the carbon footprint and meeting new environmental standards. Quality and stable foam production process is already very demanding when using virgin raw materials, and the re-use of recycled plastics is representing a real challenge.

The new goal is not only to have technology able to reuse 100% recycled foam in new products (in-house & material collected by foam converting companies), but being able to reuse also the Post-consumer recycled plastics (PCR). PCR is reprocessed plastics from households or commercial waste and the majority of which was used for packaging. PCR has higher levels of contaminants which need to be filtered out to reach good foaming results. To cope with such challenge, an improved mixing and continuous melt filtration technology has to be applied in order to guarantee a stable and reliable foam extrusion process. All these higher rates of contamination removal and keeping melt flow index rates at stable levels require a better mixing screw design and a better filtration process without losing cost-effectiveness, productivity, quality and product safety.

The Research and Development department of ALEMO company has been involved in circular economy challenges for more than a year and it has already showed great results with foams produced on ALEMO extruders with up to 15% of PCR content.

An even better results are planned to be achieved with new PCR material compounds blended with virgin material to create compounds with PCR levels of up to 30% as recently launched by some polymer raw material suppliers. This more stabilized compounds with better processability may increase the percentage of PCR content incorporated in a given application and expanding their range. These compounds offer potentially significant reductions in carbon footprint of up to 25% and in energy consumption of up to 30% compared to virgin material.

Foam manufacturers will compete in an environment with increasing raw material prices, rising energy costs and ever more demanding environmental regulations. This continues pressure on companies to reduce their ecological footprint is driving the boost of technology development as well. Better technology is the only solution to reach environmental standards and to further reduce production costs.

In the near future will not be enough to reuse only some percentage of in-house recycled foam. The foam industry as well will need to move to a circular business model, retaining its value through recycling and reusing materials with benefits that come with no cost to the planet.