A day at the museum: let’s talk about plastic.
Sunday 18 November 2018, 10.55 a.m.: Daniel Petter, head of Pöppelmann technology scouting, does a final scan of the large exhibition room in Lohne Industrial Museum. Everything is in order – the 17 stations for young plastic researchers are ready, from the shredding machine to the filament printer. On the stroke of 11 a.m., the doors to Lohne Industrial Museum open. The 1st Pöppelmann Researchers’ Sunday begins. Seven hours later, no one is in any doubt that the painstaking preparations were worth it.
1025: the Industrial Museum had never seen such a high number of visitors in one day. “We could scarcely believe it,” recounts Daniel Petter. He was part of the cross-departmental Pöppelmann project team responsible for organising the Researchers’ Sunday. “Even before the doors opened, there was a 20-metre queue of people waiting,” he recalls.
Museum Director Ulrike Hagemeier considers the day to be one of the best events ever held at the Industrial Museum. “When we began with the planning, I could never have imagined that it would reach such a huge scale. We would never have managed that on our own, either.”
The preparations took about nine months. Daniel Petter says, “Everyone was enthusiastic about the opportunity to show the public what we do with plastic and how versatile and future-proof the material we process is.”
The Pöppelmann team wanted to open up active, direct and confident dialogue with people in the region – in spite of and precisely because of the growing public pressure on the entire industry. Throughout 2018, there were almost daily reports of plastic waste floating in the oceans, sea animals perishing with their stomachs full of plastic residues and microplastics Microplastics refer to pieces of plastic smaller than 5 mm. Primary microplastics are referred to as plastic pellets that are produced by the industry for further processing, including in cosmetics production. Secondary microplastics, on the other hand, are created through the disintegration of larger plastic components by the action of the sun, wind and waves. closemicroplastics in the environment. In early 2018, China imposed an import ban on plastic waste. Dubious disposal methods for plastic packaging waste came to light. Around the same time, the European Commission presented its strategy on plastic. Plastic and plastic recycling Recycling describes the process of converting waste into new materials and objects, and thus its return to the production and consumption cycle. closerecycling had become issues that deeply moved the public.
This current news situation was repeatedly discussed by the Researchers’ Day organisation team. For instance, the apprentices who wanted to present their “Plasticmobile” In the “Plasticmobile” company initiative, apprentices address the social dimensions of plastics processing – resource conversation, waste prevention, recycling Recycling describes the process of converting waste into new materials and objects, and thus its return to the production and consumption cycle. closerecycling and reusable systems and the reconciliation of ecology and economy. close“Plasticmobile” initiative in the museum questioned whether Pöppelmann really did have nothing to do with marine pollution. “If a Pöppelmann plastic pot is sold in Asia and is not disposed of properly there, we certainly do have something to do with it,” was one argument heard.
For the young people behind “Plasticmobile” In the “Plasticmobile” company initiative, apprentices address the social dimensions of plastics processing – resource conversation, waste prevention, recycling Recycling describes the process of converting waste into new materials and objects, and thus its return to the production and consumption cycle. closerecycling and reusable systems and the reconciliation of ecology and economy. close“Plasticmobile”, Researchers’ Sunday represented the starting signal for their work on the initiative. It serves as a platform for the company’s apprentices to enter into dialogue with the public about the future of plastics processing. “Researchers’ Day gave us a good idea of what it will be like when we present our initiative at schools later,” says Sebastian Menke from the organisational team. During the day at the museum, he also supervised the large ideas wall, where visitors could stick their criticism, questions and ideas about plastic on post-it notes. “What alternatives are there to plastic?” could be read there, along with the request “Provide information to schools!”, the statement “Shredders are cool!” and an appeal in a child’s handwriting – “We need to save resources!”
A clear declaration against wasting our planet’s resources. “Through Researchers’ Sunday, we wanted to convey our message that if used properly, plastic is a sustainable material,” explains Daniel Petter, describing the starting point for the organisational team’s considerations. The day had to be entertaining and informative for museum visitors and at the same time offer an insight into the technology used in plastics processing. “A particular challenge for us was how to present the technical processes in a way that the general public would immediately understand.”
Thus, the day at the museum became an event that was met with astonishment and visible enthusiasm. While Lohne-based percussionist Carlo Runnebom experimented with Pöppelmann products to make a plastic orchestra with children in two workshops, Pöppelmann apprentices explained the basics of plastics processing at the discovery stations – demonstrating them in practice with real machines. Following a short circuit, children became acquainted with shredders, extruders, injection mouldingInjection moulding Injection moulding is a fully automated process with high reproducibility. It is suitable for the production of complex moulded parts as mass-produced articles. closeInjection moulding is a fully automated process with high reproducibility. It is suitable for the production of complex moulded parts as mass-produced articles. closeinjection moulding and thermoformingThermoforming Thermoforming is understood as a process that serves to transform thermoplastics. The process was formerly known as “deep drawing”. closeThermoforming is understood as a process that serves to transform thermoplastics. The process was formerly known as “deep drawing”. closethermoforming processes, 3D printing, various types of plastic and food packaging sealing. The showstopper: those who correctly answered all questions on the stations received a “Plastic Expert” certificate, along with an invitation to attend an interview at Pöppelmann once they pass their school exams.
Nothing was to be glossed over. Instead, great care was taken to explain an array of issues, from the correct disposal of plastic waste through household recycling Recycling describes the process of converting waste into new materials and objects, and thus its return to the production and consumption cycle. closerecycling all the way to technological innovations that make this material possible in the first place. “At the event, I really felt that many of the visitors perceive us as a company that is aware of the responsibility that comes with its work,” says Daniel Petter. He sees this as an opportunity. “I think we should expand the current high level of interest through further campaigns and events.” The Industrial Museum is also enthusiastic about the idea. “After all,” explains Museum Director Ulrike Hagemeier, “plastic represents the leading industry in Lohne.”
Pöppelmann feels a special connection to the Industrial Museum, and this is a relationship that encapsulates a substantial part of the company’s history. When Gertrud Pöppelmann (1924 – 2009) and Karl-Heinz Diekmann (1932 – 2014) stepped down from their operational positions as managing directors in May 1997, they decided to give a surprise farewell gift to their hometown. They announced that they would take over the construction financing for the long-planned industrial museum. Previously, it had long seemed that the project – a heartfelt wish of the town's long-term mayor Helmut Göttke-Krogmann – would never be realised. In 2000, the museum finally opened in its new home opposite Lohne train station.
Ulrike Hagemeier can well imagine giving the subject of plastic a larger space in the permanent exhibition, “also as a forum for the debate around plastic.” The expert for regional industrial history emphasises that the representation of this technologically fascinating industry would be a unique feature offered by the museum, which is certified by the Association of Museums of Lower Saxony and Bremen. “There is no museum in Northern Germany that is making the plastics industry a subject of discussion.”
Let us rewind to 18 November 2018. On Sunday evening, after more than 1,000 visitors of all ages leave with many new insights into plastics processing, spirits are high. “I was very impressed to see how much work and commitment the Pöppelmann team had invested in the day,” says Ulrike Hagemeier, adding, "I believe it is crucial to include the region in the discussion on current issues in the plastics industry. This is only possible with such professional content as we saw today.”
Daniel Petter is also happy with the results. “Of course there was still room for improvement in one area or another, but it was a really cool day that was only made possible by a lot of teamwork. Everyone contributed their knowledge and skills from a wide range of departments. As a result, the event also demonstrated the sense of cohesion at Pöppelmann.” So will he be asking for a re-run? “That would definitely be worth it,” he answers. “We certainly have enough topics to address.”