Plastic waste in the environment is a huge problem for us, and rightly so. The fact that plastic makes our everyday life possible in some respects is often forgotten: For example, it saves lives in the operating theater or as an airbag, saves energy and drives research and innovation. Two areas in which the material has become indispensable are transport and the food industry. In the car, the flexible material saves weight, otherwise all vehicles would be heavy monster trucks that swallow a lot of fuel. In the food industry, plastics help in the production of pizza, baked goods and poultry to confectionery, as packaging they keep fruit, vegetables, meat and dairy products fresh for a long time.
Compostable cling film
The chemical company BASF, based in Ludwigshafen, has now worked with partners to develop a compostable cling film for packaging fresh food. A highly transparent stretch film is created on the basis of a BASF bioplastic. Meat, seafood, fruit and vegetables can be packed manually or by machine. The cling film is already approved: It enables optimal breathability of the goods and thus extends their shelf life. Later it can simply be put on the compost.
Clean food production
Most of our food is produced industrially: “Baked goods, meat, fish, poultry, fruit and confectionery go through various production steps on complex systems,” explains Norbert Hendel, food expert at the plastics manufacturer Röchling Sustaplast in Lahnstein. They come into contact with machine components such as transport containers, slide rails, screw conveyors, scrapers or filling devices. For hygienic reasons, these are usually made of plastic: “Our materials have no negative impact on the health of consumers and the composition, taste, smell and appearance of the food,” says Hendel.
See and be seen
Electric drive and autonomous driving are fundamentally changing the design of cars. This also applies to lighting: “Light design will become more and more important in electric and autonomous driving – light signals are becoming information carriers,” says Siamak Djafarian, Head of the Molding Compounds Business Unit at Röhm. Since safe light is the top priority, while individual design is part of the brand identity for headlights, rear lights and interior lighting, automobile manufacturers rely on Plexiglas: “It is an extremely diverse plastic that offers a high degree of design freedom and, among other things, is particularly weather-resistant, easy to shape and process is. The material also impresses with its low weight and excellent light conductivity, ”says Djafarian. The preliminary products for the coveted material come from the Röhm location in Worms.
Quiet and nimble
Around a quarter of a car is made of plastic: The material is at the forefront in terms of flexibility, weight and functionality. At its Worms site, Röchling Automotive specializes in vehicle acoustics, aerodynamics and lightweight construction: controllable air ducts and the paneling of the underbody improve the aerodynamics of the vehicles, reduce noise levels and fuel consumption. Various structural components such as multifunctional tubs help to reduce the weight of the vehicle and thus also influence the ecological balance.
Transport and durability
According to the Federal Environment Agency, a third of all food produced worldwide ends up in the trash. But packaging can prevent that, as the example of cheese shows: Only 0.14 percent of the packaged ends up in the trash, while 5 percent of the freshly bought cheese counter. “We are working on a specific range of products with the aim of creating the right product protection while maintaining the recyclability of the material,” says Michael Hahl, Director of Sustainability at Huhtamaki. The manufacturer of food and beverage packaging also has a plant in Alf (photo): Here, a waste product from corn processing has been used as a raw material for packaging, for example for salad bowls, for decades. The “bioplastic” PLA consists of 100 percent plant starch and is compostable. This is important because take-away foods such as french fries and pizza are very popular. However, it should then also be possible to dispose of the bowl, bag or plate in an environmentally friendly manner.
In Lahnstein, Philippine produces a material that car manufacturers dream of – foamable polypropylene (EPP). A feather-light material that consists of 96 percent air. In addition, it is elastic, acoustically insulating, shock-absorbing and can take on almost any shape and color. EPP is found in sun visors, doors, rear seats and wheel arches. This reduces weight, saves fuel and increases the range – this is also important for the increasingly popular e-mobility. The energy-absorbing foam also protects the occupants and the chassis: “Its job is to minimize or completely prevent the damage caused by an impact,” explains sales manager Bernhard Lemler. Since the material reduces the impact energy in a collision, Philippine makes bumpers, side impact protection in the door, headrests or child seats from it. Another plus point: the material can be 100 percent recycled.
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