Plastic is cited as the (at least partial) cause of water and land pollution. While this is not a wrong concept, there are ways and means to produce it, process it, and recycle it at the end of its life.
One such example is Eiffel, a company in Fontanellato (PR) that recently crossed the 60-year milestone.
Eiffel is engaged in the production of polyethylene sheeting for a variety of sectors: in agriculture for crop coverings, in shipbuilding with shrink-wrap, in soil waterproofing with geomembranes, etc.
One of the weaknesses of plastic processing is that while it is a conceptually simple process, it requires a lot of energy.
Optimizing heat and compressed air
Plastic processing plants heat the material to a temperature suitable for processing, and then are cooled again.
"This involves a lot of waste. - explains Paolo Bernardi, Eiffel's Chief Technology Officer (CTO) - We try to use as little electricity as possible by taking advantage of efficient plants; in addition, we are building our third photovoltaic park, which will allow us to reach a total production of about 4 MW, a quarter of the total consumption of the production plants."
Producing heat efficiently is the first step, but how to convert it later into an energy source instead of dispersing it to the environment?
First by installing adiabatic systems, that is, systems that do not exchange heat with the outside world-a first step toward heat reuse, assisted by the use of heat pumps instead of traditional boilers.
Another type of plant accused of being particularly energy intensive is compressed air production and distribution.
"If proper maintenance is not done, there can be major leaks that result in high costs. - confirms Bernardi - In the company, we have introduced ultrasonic flow measurement systems that allow us to monitor possible leaks. By doing so, we reduce consumption and avoid installing unnecessarily oversized compressors."
Circular economy, a key resource
The main problem with plastic is its end-of-life management, because if it is not properly disposed of or recycled it takes a long time to dissolve into the environment.
Fortunately, particularly in the agricultural sector, post-use recovery is well organized. "We have created and joined a consortium that provides for the collection of end-of-life products from our customers. - Bernardi continues - These are then washed, regranulated and used again. By now, only virgin raw material or material for recycling enters our plant and only finished, compliant product comes out. No waste or by-products. Every effort toward more efficient and sustainable processes has brought benefits not only for the environment, but also for costs in utility bills. The payback, particularly for companies like ours, is very quick. Efficiency is that silent resource that sometimes you don't know you have, but when you discover it, you can't do without it."