Plastic & Circular Economy: “We are the solution, not the problem”

20 June 2019

Interview with Dr. Christoph Schumacher, Head of Marketing and Corporate Communications, ARBURG

Arburg as a machine manufacturer supports circular economy. Why do
you do that?
Dr. Christoph Schumacher: We have recognised this serious and possibly
most important problem of our industry and our society in the next decades, we
have understood its dimension and want to contribute to solving it. We firmly
believe that that this challenge cannot be faced by individual members of the
value-added chain alone.

What can you at Arburg do for the cycle?
Dr. Christoph Schumacher: We as machine manufacturers can help develop new processing techniques and procedures. A classical historic issue is multi-component processing. It shows how new challenges create new techniques, and sometimes new techniques trigger the development of new products. In my view Arburg is strongly involved in the topic “resource-efficient production”. We believe that that in the next 20 to 30 years production of plastics will also be oriented towards aspects of recycling, and this is where machine manufacturers are an important factor. We must ensure the production of these parts. And all the time we must bear in mind the common goal of production efficiency for our
customers. What we aim at: to manufacture resource-efficient products
economically with as little material and as little energy as possible.

Will circular economy help improve the image of plastics?
Dr. Christoph Schumacher: We hope so. In our opinion, plastic as a reusable
material is still the material of the 21st century. But we also see the external framework parameters. I think a major problem is the idea that plastics are waste products. Plastic materials do not belong in the oceans or the ditches but in a recycling chain. Machine engineering is an enabler, it enables recycling of  plastics. You can argue over the need of packaging a cucumber. But you cannot argue about the necessity of plastics in medical technology and in
everything affecting people. In this application everyone demands the highest quality product, for instance, when it comes to infusions or stents.

Is circular economy a business opportunity?
Dr. Christoph Schumacher: The whole issue must make sense from an
economic point of view. The public would refuse to believe us if we pretended to  have missionary aspirations. We are an industry. We actually see a business  opportunity in circular economy. We could sell the value-added cycle all over  the world. There are still many regions where circular economy does not play
any role at all, in many Asian countries, for example, but also in parts of the US.
If we could export the European or the German standard to all these markets,
we would have an incredible amount of work from this field alone in the next
decades. Arburg has customers who already make money as part of circular
economies in countries such as Indonesia, the Philippines, Brazil and also in the US. They collect PET bottles, process them into PET flakes to manufacture PET bottles again.

Whose task will it be to export entire value-added chains to the world?Christoph Schumacher: That’s difficult. Circular economy only works if
everyone is involved in the value-added chain. But at present, there are no such
consortiums to serve as export model. As a rule, such an idea can be
successful only if you approach it systematically. All those involved must be  convinced, there must be market incentives and legal regulation to define the  framework.

What if the EU introduces circular economy and products become more
expensive, but competitors from overseas offer them cheaper because
they can produce more economically with new goods?
Dr. Christoph Schumacher: That would be an inadmissible distortion of
competition. If manufacturers in the EU were forced by law to adopt certain
practices that other global players did not have, without regulating our markets
correspondingly, legislators would have to ensure that, if they regulate the
European economy, other competitors will operate under the same conditions in these markets.

Which role does the consumer play?

Consumers are an essential lever, but I feel, that
they cannot fully understand the issue at present. This is reflected in the
discussion on biodegradable products, for example. They also see pictures of
whales with plastic bags in their stomachs or sea turtles in fishing nets. That’s why in a discussion you don’t stand a chance with communicative methods.
What I hope for is that the plastics sector, from material manufacturing to the
consumers, finds a common definition. That we recognise circular economy as
a common goal and that we then position ourselves correspondingly.

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