Circular economy on a product level – the concept of refurbishment
The third presentation during Greiner Assistec’s first virtual Innovation Day was given by Stephan Laske, R&D Director at Greiner Packaging, who looked at how the end of life of products is a very important factor in the overall CO2 balance.
He began with a graphic from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation which illustrated different circular economy systems, including the different lifecycles of products and materials where they can be maintained, reused, refurbished or recycled.
“As you can see, the picture is rather complex, and it is difficult to find the best solutions,” said Stephan Laske. “That's where we step in. When it comes to making their products more sustainable, we want to be a one stop shop for our customers, and help them achieve their sustainability goals.”
He then went on to show an example, working with Xerox. “When we talk about smart refurbishment, remanufacturing means that we are taking a used product, collecting it, bringing it back and restoring it to its original quality and function. This way, the precious material is kept ‘in loop’, instead of being scrapped.
In total, with Xerox, we have so far remanufactured over 12 million products. In doing so, we’ve saved approximately: 3,696 tonnes of plastic waste; 977 tonnes of metal waste; 65 tonnes of electronic waste; and almost 100 tonnes of virgin toner.
“The interesting thing, also with remanufacturing, is that big reuse can be achieved. With the Xerox project, we are reusing plastic parts in the toner cartridge up to six times. We reuse the metal – such as metal frames and rolls from diffusers – up to 10 times, and even the electronics – such as thermostats, lamps, wires, and electronic chips from fusers – are used up to four times. Only parts that are damaged cannot be reused – but are sent to recycling or energy recovery. So, this is a perfect and excellent example of circular economy.”
Five steps to make products sustainable
Stephan Laske then present five steps to making products sustainable.
The first is ‘product analysis for end-of-life options’. Each product is examined to establish which circular options are possible. For instance, some products are quite easily recyclable; while others are better suited to remanufacture. So, products are analysed to discover the best solution.
The second step is to look into the design for circular economy. “We know that until a few years ago, it was basically function and cost which determined the look of a product – how it was built, how it worked – but the product lifecycle and its sustainability wasn't considered.
“Sometimes only small changes in the design of a product can lead to much better remanufacturability,” said Stephen Laske. “For example, if you need to bring two halves together, you have several options. You can weld, glue, screw or bolt. So which option do you choose? If you weld or glue, you can’t separate them and then you can't remanufacture the product at all. Additionally, for the design for circular economy, we think about using recyclates, looking at different types of materials. We also want to know how many cycles can be achieved in the product's life, so we add chips or codes, to identify where products come from to allow us to accurately measure the number of cycles.”
The third step is to identify refurbishment options, analysing many different aspects: how many parts are involved in the production; where it is located; how are the logistics working out; how effective is dismantling; and so on.
Step four is to identify recycling options. Parts that are damaged or that cannot be remanufactured need to be recycled, but some materials are not recyclable. So, from the outset, materials used in manufacturing need to be easily recyclable.
The fifth step is the life cycle assessment (LCA), because, for example, the remanufactured product must not emit more CO2 than the original.
The LCA allows us to ensure that we offer only the most sustainable solutions, helping our customers reach their sustainability goals.
Sustainable solution provider
Stephen Laske than looked at how Greiner Assistec was succeeding as a sustainable solution provider.
“In the last few years, we have built a very, very tight network of partners along the whole value chain, which helps us achieve many of these steps ourselves, but we have also developed a network of trustworthy partners who support us in additional specific areas.
“For example, to organise collections, we work closely with waste management logistics companies, finding ways to bring your material back if you cannot do so. We also produce spare parts, with perfect timing, so that they are where you need them at the time that you need them. We also maintain products.
“We use digital platforms to connect demand, with logistics, with production, and this helps us to really speed up and be much more effective.
“We carry out mechanical and chemical recycling, deliver end of life services, and we also offer smart refurbishment to ensure we provide our customers with the best possible sustainable solution.”
Recordings of all the live sessions from the first virtual Greiner Assistec Innovation Day are available here.