- DIGITAL SOLUTIONS
While the demand for recycled pellets is increasing continuously, it is becoming more and more difficult to obtain clean post-industrial plastic waste. Arpema Plásticos is committed to a central company strategy: technical solutions which also enable the processing of plastic waste with a higher, more complex amount of impurities. Further to this, a Laserfilter was added to one of the existing recycling systems. This investment enabled a greater scope of input material and it was thus possible to increase production output considerably.
Recycling has become a megatrend in Mexico. Instead of disposing of their production waste as in the past, plastics converters are beginning to reuse it again in their own production processes. Additionally, they also buy in plastic waste in the marketplace, triggering an enormous demand cycle. Due to this high demand, companies working exclusively with plastic recycling face the challenge of procuring the necessary stocks of input material. As the amount of clean plastic waste which is available in the marketplace is steadily decreasing, they have to make do with input material which is difficult to process as an alternative.
The Mexican company Arpema Plásticos processes industrial plastic and production waste to make new raw material. Thanks to the use of modern technology it was able to take the decisive step forward – input material with a high amount of impurities can now also be reused in the production process.
The company produces 12,000 tonnes of recycled pellets every year with currently three plants located in Lerma (Mexico). Arpema Plásticos specialises in the production of polypropylene with varying viscosity for extrusion up to injection moulding. The product portfolio also includes high- and low-density polyethylene for injection moulding and blow-moulded applications and polystyrenes (GPPS, MIPS, HIPS).
Plastics Technology Mexico met the managing director for an interview following a plant tour at the headquarters of Arpema Plásticos. Pedro Arnauda outlined the special features of commercial recycling and the challenges and opportunities in this industry. He also has a solution: investing in technology. The most recent investment was in a recycling line with a high-technology filter system – a milestone for Arpema Plásticos. And the next investment is imminent: the company intends to fill a niche in the market which Mexico is hardly aware of and increase the recycling volume to 18,000 tonnes.
TECHNOLOGY TOP PRIORITY
Pedro Arnauda founded Arpema Plásticos S.A. de C.V. in 2010 but has personally been working in the recycling sector for longer. After graduating as a lawyer he started working in the legal department of a filling plant which aroused his curiosity and business acumen in respect of the processing of plastic waste. "I decided to get into the processing of plastic based on production waste from plastic converters. I rented small premises for this purpose, bought a used machine and founded a company," he continues.
Back then Arnauda concentrated primarily on the processing of labels and drink bottle caps made of polypropylene. "Business was stable. We had a customer in the USA who supplied a new container of plastic waste as soon as we had finished 20 tonnes of recycled polypropylene pellets for shipping to India. Soon, however, a major investment in a new machine was due. To raise capital I bought a share in an import business which had nothing to do with recycling. Business was not good so I came to the conclusion: cobbler, stick to your last."
Three years later Arnauda received part of his capital from the unsuccessful import business and founded Arpema Plásticos with a loan from his father. To start with he decided to buy new machines with basic technology from Asia which were sufficient for the beginning. Soon, however, it became necessary to purchase more sophisticated machines. "The technology makes the difference. You can only enter more demanding branches of industry and increase profit if you have top technology. We decided to make administration leaner and with the money we saved we were able to buy our first Austrian machine from the company Erema."
Arnauda sees the benefits of advanced technology not only in the increasing production figures and better quality, for him it is also the key to earning the trust of customers. "When potential customers visit our plant they see our technology and are given a positive impression. This plays a decisive role, because in most cases we are able to deepen the business relationship with these customers. The chances of success, particularly in the recycling industry, are bigger if a company is able to earn the trust of its customers," he emphasises.
Arpema put its first Erema recycling system into operation at the end of 2011. The subsequent rapidly growing production volume soon made it necessary to purchase two further systems. The latest Intarema system with integrated Laserfilter bought from Erema nine months ago now offers Arpema completely new possibilities: processing plastic material which is heavily contaminated with paper, wood or cellulose is no longer a problem. The Laserfilter is a laser-drilled screen disc in a self-cleaning system (see photo).
"Without the filter we can only process clean input material. With the filter more challenging material is also possible and we can process plastic waste from dirtier industrial areas," explains Arnauda. In a conventional recycling plant hard particles or contaminants of the melt are deposited on the filter and impair product quality. The Laserfilter, on the other hand, cleans itself as soon as the first deposits form. Production simply carries on and delivers a good result, as Arnauda confirms.
The company currently has three recycling systems in operation. "Each machine is specialised in the processing of a certain material. A recycling company in search of the perfect all-purpose machine for every application will struggle to find one. It is better to examine the material available in detail and optimise each machine for one or a maximum of two types. At our company there is one system for unprinted material, a second with degassing for heavily printed material plus the machine with the Laserfilter for contaminated material," he explains.
PROGRESS IN RECYCLING
Arpema uses production waste from a wide variety of industries as raw material. According to Arnauda the success comes from finding the right raw material suppliers with consistent material quality. "Our suppliers provide us with approved waste from the production process," he explains. Demand for recycled pellets is growing even in high-tech industries such as automotive, which extends the market for Arpema enormously. This also means that converters use their production waste themselves as input material and it is becoming more and more difficult to find intput material for repelletising which is not excessively contaminated.
"It is becoming increasingly difficult to obtain good plastic waste. As soon as plastics converters begin to optimise their waste management processes they want to use production waste themselves instead of disposing of it. If the plastic waste is not used as input material in the production process due to regulations, they begin to make by-products and buy in additional material in the market. The recycling loop which develops this way is exemplary, but the material bottleneck makes life hard for us recycling companies despite the growing demand for recycled pellets," he adds.
According to Arnauda, the lack of material available is in general a serious problem. "In the recycling industry you can't simply dial a number for a release order of one container of plastic waste for production. You have to wait until production waste, rejects or recyclables have gathered and make sure your finances are sufficient to take advantage of the opportunity. In other industries, keeping stock is on the decline, but in the recycling industry you are in for trouble if there is not enough in the warehouse and will have to live with bottlenecks."
And the solution? Arnauda sees the solution in technology which can also process challenging plastic waste to a grade which is otherwise possible only with clean input material. This is the reason why he decided in favour of the Laserfilter.
As a result, waste from the post-consumer sector – e.g. pallet packaging – can also be processed. Previously, Arpema was not able to process these stretch films with barcode stickers. "Without the Laserfilter we would need an army of workers to remover every sticker individually. Now we can feed this waste directly into the machine and produce pellets for carrier bags and piping," he explains. Unlike in the past, certain nonwoven materials which contain cellulose can likewise be processed. Filters and screens on conventional machines are blocked by impurities which are created from the cellulose when the material melts. "With the Laserfilter it is now possible to process this material, too," adds Arnauda.
The managing director of Arpema Plásticos sees the challenges of the recycling industry not in demand but in the availability of recyclable input material and the production of consistent product quality. "If you produce clean, perfectly processed pellets, selling them is child's play," he explains.
According to Arnauda, however, there is still room on the upside for recycled pellets. Although it would be possible to use recycled material, many companies still prefer new input material due to reservations about possible material problems and fluctuating quality. Arnauda says that the good progress made by Arpema is largely down to the fact that customers can trace back in detail the material produced.
"We have our own laboratory and compile technical datasheets for every charge. Our products give you security and this has enabled us to enter markets and acquire customers who didn't take recycled pellets into consideration in the past. What we sell, works, and our customers can rely on this – a crucial factor in the recycling business," he assures.
The customers of Arpema Plásticos are major well-known companies and intensive users of raw materials who make a conscious decision in favour of recycled pellets for reasons of social responsibility, environmental ideals and economic considerations. The pellets produced at Arpema are supplied to the automotive and packaging industries, used in rotational moulding and processed to make plastic boxes and pallets for the beverage industry. They are also used to make strapping.
Most of the customers are located in Mexico and the company exports to Guatemala and the USA. "The demand in our domestic market is so high that we would be able to sell our entire production volume in Mexico. Part of it, however, is exported for strategic reasons."
Arpema Plásticos is all set for a further expansion step in the near future: the three existing plants are to be brought together in the new 15,000 m² large building in Lerma (Mexico).
In the face of the ever decreasing availability of plastic waste the company is also entering the young, not so competitive market for the recycling of agricultural waste. "The recycling of agricultural waste poses many technical questions with regard to fertilisers and other soil contaminants. We have been taking a very close look at this topic for four years, together with competent specialists who have experience in the processing of this type of waste. These include, for example, engineer Sergio Beutelspacher, an acknowledged expert in this sector," explains Arnauda, who is planning to finalise the project this year. "We will continue to invest money in technology and consider this to be the right approach," emphasises Arnauda.
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