Saving the world

1 min read

Courtesy of Sir David Attenborough’s Blue Planet II series, this year will surely be remembered as the tipping point for global plastic pollution. Bubbling under is another environmental issue of resource depletion or supply shortages for rare earths and so on. In Machinery’s sphere of activity, for example, the increasing cost of tungsten carbide precursor ammonium paratungstate has been a driver in developments that see cutting tools/tips use less carbide. (First published in Machinery, December 2018)

An end to global consumption growth is not in sight, since that is how poor countries raise themselves out of poverty, but answers there are as scientists and engineers set to work to battle the issues of the day. Three items have recently passed Machinery’s desk that demonstrate this.

First, the four-/six-pack of beer and its plastic shrink-film-style container. In September, Germany’s KHS Group was presented with the Green Star Packaging Award at the FachPack trade show for its Nature MultiPack system that holds cans together with dots of adhesive. The KHS packaging system requires up to 85% less material than the conventional multipack and reduces energy consumption during production by a maximum of 67%.

KHS has also developed fully recyclable PET bottles. FreshSafe PET technology sees such bottles have an ultra-thin glass coating applied to their inside walls. These bottles are 100% recyclable, as the coating is washed off during the recycling process, producing pure, fully segregated PET.

Legislation is behind this. Germany’s Packaging Law comes into effect on 1 January 2019, requiring 58.5% of all plastic waste to be recycled (separate materials recovered and reused); from 2022 onwards that figure rises to 63%. At the moment, the amount of plastic recycled in Germany totals around 36%. (In the UK, Defra’s promised Resources and Waste Strategy was not available as we go to press.)

Moving to resource depletion and another German company, Deutsche Edelstahlwerke, has developed a tool steel made of easily obtainable raw materials. Its Thermodur 2727 IP is based on the alloy elements nickel and aluminium, ensuring users need not rely on expensive elements that are in scarce supply, such as wolfram or chromium. But additional benefits are that its thermal shock resistance is better than that of the reference material and its maximum hardness and permanent tempering resistance are also superior. Currently available only in a non-remelted condition, DEW is developing and testing the material further, while it also shows potential as a possible material for gas atomising and additive manufacturing.

Many small steps such as these will see manufacturing, helpfully prompted by legislation, play its part in saving the world.