While engineering plastics are different to those that consumers are increasingly aiming to cut back on, the industry is still determined to play its part in ensuring a greener future for New Zealand.
“Like all of society, we need to take ownership of the footprint our industry has on our environment,” says Dermid McKinley, director at Tasman Machinery.
McKinley says that today’s focus on sustainable products is ensuring that there is a “wide-angled view” of the affects of the industry.
And this is something that Dotmar Engineering Plastics agrees with.
“The trend to green initiatives has also created opportunities,” says Robert Evitt, Auckland general manager for Dotmar, with the industry now looking for materials with improved performance.
“For example, transportation businesses are conscious of reducing the weight of their vehicle fleets, to reduce fuel consumption and emissions.
“There are now a range of plastic materials specifically developed to reduce the weight in vehicle construction.”
Evitt says there are similar possibilities in the development of materials, such as NG-EVO conveyor chains “whose performance reduces consumption of water and potentially harmful chemicals”.
Reuse and recycle
One new technology soon to come into the New Zealand market is plastic pipes made from recycled milk bottles and other HDPE plastics.
Headed by Solo Plastics, CEO Alan Sutcliffe says that this is an exciting development for the industry.
“The trials have been so successful that Solo has invested in new high-tech equipment from Germany that can produce pipes on a massive scale.
“This plant will be up and running by September this year and will use a method called spiral wound extrusion to produce product that is incredibly strong without being heavy,” says Sutcliffe.
“That’s a big plus when you’re producing pipes up to five metres in diameter, as it makes them easier to handle, transport and install.”
Techspan New Zealand is also on a mission towards sustainability.
“We are working to find better ways to use the materials in response to a growing awareness of the problems plastic products cause after they have been discarded,” says Tim Fastnedge, Techspan New Zealand’s sales and marketing director.
“Engel is taking steps to find a process that enables industries and consumers to carry on using an adaptable and useful material without paying a heavy environmental price for the privilege.
“The ‘circular economy’ is the buzz word today where manufacturers are following in Engel’s lead towards addressing these issues in a real and positive way.”
At Solo, the primary material used is high-density polyethylene (HDPE).
“This carries a Type 2 plastic code and is one of the safest forms of plastic, solvent resistant and has high strength characteristics,” says Sutcliffe.
“It’s the perfect material for pipes and one of the easiest plastics to recycle.”
In addition to this, Sutcliffe says that Solo is committed to reusing clean HDPE waste from any source, chipping it and extruding it into pellets for new products that are suitable for non-virgin material.
“We are also committed to recycling 100% of all HDPE waste produced internally at Solo,” says Sutcliffe, with the company’s recycling results published on its website. Since January 2020, 113 tonnes of PE waste have been recycled.
Recycling materials is also an important initiative for Dotmar.
“Many of the materials which we supply can be recycled and some have originally been produced from recycled materials,” says Evitt.
“However, using recyclable materials is only possible when the available materials meet the performance parameters of the customer’s application.”
A balancing act
This is where the industry feels that, while the push towards greener products is vital, there are still many things to be considered when it comes to engineering plastics.
According to Fastnedge, there are few viable alternatives. And with plastics being used heavily across industries such as car manufacturing and healthcare, the material has become an “indispensable part of modern life”.
But as explained by Evitt, “while engineering plastics are a component of the group of materials produced from petrochemicals, they are far from the much-despised single-use plastics”.
“In many pure engineering applications, the high-performance materials necessary may not be recyclable. However, because of the properties of these materials, the components can be expected to have an extended life, and not disposed of for many years after installation.”