The huge bales of plastic residue stand tightly packed in the raw materials warehouse at the Pöppelmann plant in Holdorf. Rolls of labels for drinks bottles lie directly next to piles of nonwovens for nappy production. Plant Manager Otto Bavendiek points to huge transport sacks in another area of the hall. The big bags are full of colourful plastic granules, ground material from garden furniture.
A visit to the Pöppelmann plant in Holdorf or, as it is known amongst Pöppelmann staff, “compounding”. Since 2013, the company has used the plant to gain pioneering experience in plastics processing in order to reduce the consumption of fossil fuels. “We produce recycled materials from industrial plastic waste,” explains Otto Bavendiek to summarise the task of his team. A Pöppelmann trailer travels back and forth between Lohne and Holdorf every day. After all, the products made at the Holdorf plant flow back into the silos in plant 1 in Lohne.
Before becoming plant manager at Holdorf, the industrial foreman for plastic and rubber technology Otto Bavendiek was in charge of printing in the TEKU® division. Printing on plant pots is a difficult task that demands precise material knowledge. And this, too, has something to do with recycling. After all, since the beginning of the 1990s, TEKU® has used post-industrial recycled materials (PIR) to produce internationally acclaimed horticultural products in Lohne. Otto Bavendiek was therefore already very familiar with the potential applications of recycled plastics when he was asked whether he would like to take the helm at the Compounding division in 2013. Indeed, his specialist knowledge made him the ideal candidate.
What exactly does “compounding” mean? It sounds more complicated that it is. “To compound” means “to make up” or “compose”, and the plant manager is only too happy to explain what this involves when it comes to plastics processing. “The aim of compounding is to change or adjust the technical characteristics of industrial waste by adding other components.” Every product has very specific requirements. “Some need to be particularly impact-resistant, some need to withstand heat and others need to be opaque or flexible,” says the expert. Paint is also one of the added components, which are known as additives. “Regranulate” and “regenerate” are the technical terms used for the Pöppelmann products from Holdorf. Regranulate is obtained from plastic regrind through a melting process. The same happens with regenerate, although it is also outgassed to remove moisture and volatile compounds and introduce additives. The umbrella term for both is recycled materials.
Meanwhile, in the compounding production hall, workers are taking plastic waste from the raw materials warehouse and putting it into position for the start of its new product life. On the left side of the hall stands the extruder, with which recycled material production began in 2013. A conveyor belt transports the plastic residue to the shredder. Contaminants such as cardboard and metal are filtered out of the shredded material and a homogeneous plastic melt is created in the shredder. Finally, small plastic grains trickle out into the collection container. “Every year, this machine produces around 5,000 tonnes of recycled material,” explains Otto Bavendiek. In 2018, Pöppelmann increased production capacity with a second machine, and the new extrusion system now stands at the other side of the hall. It can produce around 2,500 tonnes of recycled material annually.
Before the material leaves the plant, it has to undergo an initial inspection – here in Holdorf, the quality and properties of Pöppelmann recycled material are already ascertained. An injection moulding machine shapes the regranulate and regenerate into plastic granules – experts use the term “mould proving” to describe this inspection. “Among other things, we test the flow rate and impact resistance of the recycled material”, says Otto Bavendiek. The characteristics are crucial for further processing – for example in the TEKU® division. Markus Meinke, head of technology and processes at TEKU®, is one of those who process recycled materials from Holdorf – but not before critically examining it. “The procedure for our goods receiving inspection is standardised and applies to all suppliers, including our own recycled materials from Holdorf,” he explains. After all, even a supposedly simple product like a plant pot depends on the best material input. Only this way can horticultural companies ensure its smooth integration in their highly automated processes.
Only post-industrial plastic waste is processed in Holdorf. The bottom line is, “The company has the same high quality standards for the compounds Pöppelmann manufactures as for all other products it delivers,” emphasises Otto Bavendiek. It is company strategy that is now paying off, and Pöppelmann is now ready to launch its first technical compound on the market. It was developed for a product commissioned to the Pöppelmann K-TECH® division by a renowned company from the automotive industry.
A milestone, according to the unanimous assessment of everyone involved. After all, the automotive industry is currently extremely cautious with the use of recycled materials for reasons of quality assurance. After all, globally applicable standards must be adhered to. Otto Bavendiek is convinced that Pöppelmann made the right decision by establishing its own compounding facility. “With our comprehensive experience gathered over many years, we can work on new solutions aimed at improving the quality of the recycled materials today.” Markus Meinke also sees the future of the sector in minimising the use of fossil raw materials. “This can be seen in the fact that, even in the automotive industry, the use of recycled materials has gained importance. However, the technical requirements are much higher in this area. This is precisely where promising opportunities lie for our compounding. Here, we can influence the material properties in a highly targeted manner.”
He also points to future challenges. “Nowadays, most plastic processors have found recycling solutions for their separated production waste. Therefore, the availability of this material will inevitably decrease.” His colleague Lukas Scheeben, head of raw material purchasing at Pöppelmann, experiences this market situation on a daily basis. “There is a great deal going on in this market,” he explains. It will become more difficult to purchase plastic material suitable for recycling at a commercially justifiable price.
The processing of recycled material is now a market-leading trend – not least due to the current social pressure on the plastics industry. For Otto Bavendiek, this serves to confirm his work objectives. “With the Holdorf plant, we now have our own technological know-how for crucial, future-oriented questions in the industry.”