Young plastics researchers are on the trail of proper recycling
Young plastics researchers are on the trail of proper recycling
Interview with Julia Uptmoor, Head of Marketing Communications & Head of Cooperation Project, Pöppelmann GmbH & Co. KG Plastics Plant Toolmaking
Exclusively for K-MAG
Plastics production on site: At the historic injection molding machines in the Industrial Museum, Pöppelmann trainee Chantal showed how new products are created from recyclate. Photo: Honkomp
We can only achieve a true circular economy if everyone pulls together. The correct disposal of waste, but also the understanding of recycling are important steps so that the goal of a circular economy can be achieved.
Julia Uptmoor. Photo: Pöppelmann GmbH & Co. KG Kunststoffwerk-Werkzeugbau
Therefore, from 8 to 14 November 2021, the Pöppelmann Researchers' Week on the topic of "Plastics and Recycling" took place at the Lohne Industrial Museum. The aim was to educate young people about plastics and recycling.
Your company hosted a Research Week at the Industrial Museum Lohne. What was the event’s background?
Julia Uptmoor: At Pöppelmann, we believe a true circular economy is the economic model of the future. To drive progress and achieve milestones in the practice area of work, we developed the PÖPPELMANN blue® initiative where we bundle all company activities to create a completely closed raw material cycle. Today we have several projects that implement the circular economy in our business successfully: this includes plant pots created in a closed material loop and high-precision technical series components made from recycled household waste materials. Our Research Week aimed to highlight the practical application of true circular economy methods. We also wanted to emphasize that a circular economy can only be achieved if everyone – including children – makes a crucial contribution. This entails knowledge about the history and basics of recycling, starting with the proper handling of waste. It is the key requirement to ensure continued reuse of materials, thus conserving valuable raw material to close the material loop.
This provided the context for our Research Week event, where we invited plastics scientists aged eight and over to gain first-hand experience in plastics and sustainability at various child-friendly hands-on interactive learning displays. Pöppelmann apprentices were excited to take charge of the activity stations.
Preserving plastic waste through recycling: Pöppelmann trainee Nick explained why it is important to separate different packaging materials before disposing of them in the yellow garbage can. Photo: Honkomp
What were the little plastics scientists able to discover and try out in the Industrial Museum?
Uptmoor: After a short film in the Pöppelmann cinema, the workshop participants started their expedition. Experiments explained the properties of plastic material. Onsite, machines vividly illustrated manufacturing processes such as injection molding, thermoforming, and 3D printing. The participants learned about the various stations that make up a closed material loop. This also included recycling machines made by the "Auszubildendeninitiative Kunststoffmobil" (English: Mobile Plastic Trainee Initiative). The children were able to use the trainees’ shredder to crush products; at the extruder, they witnessed how to create new material by melting the ground substance. The kids were especially excited about the sealer machine for food packaging: they used it to seal a cup filled with candy – to take home with them.
The waste management service in Vechta, Germany ("Abfallwirtschaftsgesellschaft Vechta") provided a sorting station for the Research Week that also gave many adults a eureka moment. The so-called "Kreis-Lauf" (closed loop), which was developed and designed by a Pöppelmann project team as a new exhibit for the permanent exhibition on plastics, delivers background information pertaining to a circular economy and plastics recycling in the region. Participants were given a routing slip at the start of their exploration containing questions about specific stations. If they came up with the correct answer, they received small prizes and a certificate.
What feedback did you receive from the participants? Are you happy with the outcome?
Uptmoor: The COVID-19 pandemic made it impossible to host a large event like our Research Sunday three years ago. This time around, we created small group workshops instead, spread over one week. During the week, almost 460 students took part in one of the 23 workshops structured into 1.5-hour increments to complement their school curriculum. Over the weekend, an additional 250 young and old plastic scientists visited the event, joining one of the 4 daily workshops.
The new format proved successful. It gave participants more time to explore the individual stations in a quieter setting, to ask questions, look around and be amazed. We also received great feedback from the accompanying teachers, who complimented us on our child-friendly and practice-oriented approach to teaching recycling. Ulrike Hagemeier and Benno Dräger, the managers of the museum, were likewise delighted about our renewed and successful collaboration.
The self-built extruder of the trainee initiative Kunststoffmobil made clear how granules are produced from filament. Those who correctly answered all the questions at the individual stations received a certificate and small surprises. Photo: Honkomp
Why do you think it is important to teach children about plastics from a young age?
Uptmoor: Collective responsibility for our planet and future generations has spurred action and new economic development strategies in the 21st century: circular economy is the future. Especially for the younger generation, environmental protection and confronting climate change are two of the most important issues facing the world. They will live in a world we are now creating.
We want to show that there are well-tried ways to address these issues by using recycled plastics. Every one of us can take action to foster a circular economy: As consumers, we support the production of high-quality products containing closed-loop recycling material by correctly disposing and separating waste. Even the youngest among us can participate - and learn to make a big difference through the responsible use of products and packaging from an early age. Our aim is to raise awareness of issues relating to recycling and the circular economy - and thereby also understand and shape our own consumer behavior in the process.
We also want to look to the future when we need good people who have the courage and ideas to help our industry transition to a circular economy.
Homemade recycling: The Kunststoffmobil trainee initiative was also represented at the Researchers' Week with its homemade machines. Here, the young plastics researchers were able to produce regrind themselves. Photo: Honkomp
Are you planning other campaigns and activities to help young people deepen their knowledge and management of plastics?
Uptmoor: We are considering giving the Research Week a permanent format that takes place every two years. But we also ponder other formats. To make the subject more accessible to the younger generation, we launched the "Kunststoffmobil" (Mobile Plastic) corporate initiative, which features dedicated trainees from different cohorts and different vocations. Their goal is to "mobilize" plastics and recycling and make them more accessible by engaging the public through dialogue on the future of plastics processing, by publicizing the closed material loop of plastics and by using their self-made machines to visually illustrate the issue. The trainees build their own machines to recycle plastics - and are happy to talk about their work and goals in schools and at events via a "mobile workshop".