September 12, 2022
Plastic packaging is with us whenever we go shopping. There are virtually no products, whether food items or consumer goods, that are not packaged in a foil, shell, or the interior of an additional pack when they arrive at our home. Inevitably images of trash-strewn beaches, or of an underwater world where garbage bags and reef inhabitants swim a race against each other or even worse come to mind. In short, plastic materials have a seriously tarnished reputation. Nevertheless, it is not possible to do without them, and yet there are also other ways: with sustainable packaging manufactured from material recycled up to 100%. How does that work? Manufacturers like rose plastic AG in Hergensweiler/Lindau, Germany show us the way by processing recycled plastic.
Why do we, as a tool manufacturer, rely on plastic packaging? In the past years, our products have always been sent to customers optimally protected and clearly recognisable as CERATIZIT articles; this has not changed! Only thanks to special shipping boxes made from plastic can we be sure that the high-quality tools, some of which, depending on their characteristics and size, are vulnerable to damage, arrive safe and sound. And as until now no serious alternative could be found, the existing variants must be optimised, at least in the light of sustainability.
Plastic packaging requires relatively few resources for its production, and in view of its low weight unnecessary emissions can be avoided during transport. Studies show that if we wanted to replace plastic packaging by suitable alternative materials, energy needs would more than double, while simultaneously tripling CO2 emissions.
What does ‘sustainable packaging’ mean? ‘Sustainable packaging offers maximum functionality combined with best possible product protection, causes minimal ecological impact and is as circular as possible’, reads the Guideline for Circular Packaging of the FH Campus Vienna technical university. Exactly our approach: for CERATIZIT the topic of sustainability has not recently become a focus but determines all our actions. A lightweight but nevertheless extremely important part of this is our packaging material, as it forms part of our sustainability strategy.
Packaging materials are real universal talents, or at least we demand a lot from them: First of all, they must optimally protect our high-quality products during shipping and storage. In this context we require maximum stability without allowing excessive weight or volume. Moreover, packaging must fulfil all requirements without the need for additional packaging aids because every further gram and every added cubic centimetre of storage space has a negative impact on the sustainability of our products. Consequently, packaging must be extremely solid but at the same time as small and light as possible, as well as stackable.
Our customers should always receive their tools in next to no time. That is why we attach great importance to ensuring that both products and their packaging are designed for the most automated packaging process possible. In the ideal case the shipping boxes can simply be reused. Otherwise, they are just recycled once more, perhaps giving them a chance to serve again as packaging for one of our tools during their product life.
Although functionality is decisive, we think that packaging should also look good – you could practically see it as the business card for our products. This means neither fancy nor frills but a functional information system with a clear manufacturer assignment – in our case the red packaging – and a clearly understandable label with the essential product data. Despite all this, the plastic material used for packaging production must consist mainly of recycled materials and be further recyclable.
Is that a lot to ask? Yes, we would agree – but it is by no means out of the question. It is not without reason that so much is expected of packaging. Studies have shown that the damage would be greater if only one tool was damaged instead of all the packaging of a delivery. A lot more important resources would be wasted, which additionally underlines the benefit of packaging in terms of sustainability.
The fact that plastic material and sustainability need not remain a contradiction forever is ensured by consistent and correct separation of plastic after its use. From private households in Germany the material is transported to the yellow bag or yellow bin at local recycling systems where it passes the sorting plant, is shredded and subjected to the various processing methods based on the type (PP or PE). Afterwards it is separated and further processed. And immediately there is nothing to prevent this post-consumer recycling material being used to create new products. Apart from PCR, post-industrial plastic (PIR) is also used. This derives from residues of industrial processes which for example may include residue from stamping processes or faulty batches. Their benefit: they are easily recyclable as they are single-grade and scarcely contaminated. Thus, PIR represents a useful alternative to new products where PCR is not available or special purity of the material is required.
To make it a precious resource, sorted waste is milled, cleaned, melted, filtered and granulated. The recycled material is just as good as the oil-based material. It offers the standard protection and same product quality as base materials derived from oil. These are the granulates with which rose plastic AG works. The family-based company from Hergensweiler/Lindau (Germany) has produced recyclable packaging for over 65 years and has established itself as the market leader in the production of plastic packaging for tools. Exclusively recyclable plastic material is used, which thanks to the single-grade manufacturing processes leads to an internal recycling quota of approximately 100%. This results in fully-fledged products which have been tested a thousand times.
Standards for collecting old plastic material vary around the world. Consequently, the recycled product, based on the process or method of separation, may have a different colour. Also, country-specific situations play a part in this context. Dark material, for example, results when all the plastic waste from the yellow bag or the yellow bin is used for further recycling.
Using recycled material to produce packaging material reduces the quantity of fossil raw materials involved, thus decreasing energy consumption. For example, the production of common PET requires twice as much energy as does the recycling. Furthermore 75% less CO2 emissions are caused compared to the use of conventional granulate. The recycled material can be reused several times depending on its purity.
An important step towards our goal of improved sustainability for packaging material is its standardisation. Why should different types of boxes be in circulation when one shape made by one manufacturer provides the best result? Opening or closing the new BlockPack for our shank tools requires only minimum forces while they offer high clamping forces when closed thanks to the bayonet-type TwistLock. As cushioning is a fundamental property for the breakage-resistant packaging of our tools, the BlockPacks are provided with contoured tube ends and lateral support grooves as well as integrated feet.
In order to show different tool lengths with one type the length of the pack can be adjusted using a ratchet. They are also easy to hold in the hand, even with gloves, and offer shape stability, just in case something should fall on them. Neither moisture nor oil can harm them, let alone the valuable contents. BlockPacks are excellent for stacking and storage and can be closed and reused several times. In general, PCR packs are in no way inferior to conventional plastic packs in terms of functionality.
No special packaging was available for our wide range of inserts, until rose plastic came up with the solution in the form of the InsertClick Box 2A and 3A and the InsertBox Connect. They have been specifically developed for cutting inserts (ISO turning inserts, parting and grooving inserts, threading inserts, indexable inserts, thread-milling inserts) – the InsertBox Connect was even specially tailored to CERATIZIT’s needs. Thanks to the compartmentalisation of the boxes the sensitive cutting inserts are perfectly protected.
In the new InsertClick Box the various cutting geometries and sizes enjoy perfect protection. The sliding lid can easily be opened and is secure so that the InsertBoxes can be filled, closed, and labelled automatically, an ideal situation for us. The base part and the lid are made of the same PCR-PP material so everything is set up for the further recycling of the product.
For PCD and CBN inserts which are of particularly high quality we use the InsertBox Connect from rose plastic as providing ideal protection. In the case of this single pack, we were able to dispense with the plastic inlay which was still needed in the old packaging. To ensure maximum protection for cutting inserts there are specific compartment formats for the different indexable inserts. In addition, the CERATIZIT logo inside the lid ensures that the indexable inserts are positioned precisely and rest securely in the pack. PCR products fulfil very high standards in terms of quality and performance. Yet they show some different characteristics from new products, though this is not a sign of inferior quality. Finished packaging products may have small inclusions and the inner contour of blow-moulded articles has a slightly structured surface. Film hinges exhibit a more intense crazing effect but without affecting the altogether efficient functioning of the hinges. Furthermore, PCR packs have a slight odour.
It is good to establish sustainability in the company and to make employees aware of these issues. It is even better if you can also involve an external institution that controls how effectively it is implemented and points out where there is still potential for improvement. The basis of this is the principle of a circular economy where products are developed and used in circle and so it is not just the first use of the product that takes centre stage. This principle, named ‘Cradle to Cradle®’, was elaborated in the 1990s by the German professor Dr Michael Braungart and the American architect William McDonough and further developed by the Environmental Protection Encouragement Agency (EPEA) in Hamburg.
It embraces a holistic view of the procurement, manufacture, and disposal of products through to their regeneration, meaning the focus is on the entire cycle. Based on how well the company meets these criteria during production, it can be awarded basic, bronze, silver, gold, or platinum status. The certificate must be renewed every two years. This ensures quality, and moreover it gives companies the possibility of improving their status.
Before a product receives ‘Cradle to Cradle®’ certification, it is analysed with regard to numerous criteria under 5 categories: material health, recyclability, renewable energy, responsible use of water, and social justice. All these criteria are given the same weighting. With Cradle to Cradle® certification, however, material health and recyclability play an important role. What material was used to manufacture the product? Where and in what form can it be reused, either as a whole or in the form of single components? Our packaging supplier rose plastic AG has an excellent score here, which earned them a ‘Cradle to Cradle®’ certificate in silver. We would like to emulate them and achieve silver certification ourselves.
Even before fixed requirements are laid down by law, we have already found our way to meet the required recycling quotas. By 2030 55% of plastic packs will be recycled to reduce CO2 emissions. In 2021 more than 6.3 million plastic packs left our factories; this corresponds to a plastic weight of approximately 58.6 tons. Extrapolating the expected volume in Europe for 2022, by using packs in PCR plastic rather than virgin plastic we can save 226 t of CO2 emissions per year. In this way we will be able to reduce our CO2 emissions in the field of packaging by at least 60%.
Emissions of greenhouse gases can be notably reduced by recycling plastic material compared to the production of new material. By recycling 1 ton of plastic waste, CO2 emissions are reduced by 1.2 to 1.4 tons compared to the production of the same quantity of plastic from fossil sources.
The conversion of the packaging sleeves to PCR recyclate has already begun and will be continued successively. At the same time, we are replacing the labels, which have also been made from new material up to now. After all, our goal is to have the entire packaging made from100 % recycled plastic. Now we could certainly see our "green conscience" at ease and rest on the status we have achieved - but not with us. There is simply too much potential for our environment in the current developments, and we would like to use this to continue to turn the CO2 screw: A 360° all-round view often opens new perspectives and ways to achieve this together with our *partner rose plastic ®.