Energy chains often end up as industrial waste at the end of their service lives. The Chainge recycling initiative keeps the recyclable material within the circular flow. (Image: igus GmbH)
Recycling programme for engineering plastics
Plastic energy chains and bearings by igus are found wherever movement is required during a production process. Movement in packaging plants is also driven by energy chains and bearings that have been manufactured using high-performance polymers. But, although these products are long-lasting, there comes a point when even these need to be disposed of. What happens then? igus has launched its own corresponding recycling programme and recently joined forces with the start-up cirplus with the aim of closing the material cycle for plastics.
igus manufactures most of its products by injection moulding – a process from which the company has also derived its name (igus = Industriespritzguss … German for industrial injection moulding). The company has already relatively easily been able to recycle the waste generated by its own production processes – but it had few options for doing so with plastic components that need to be replaced after use. That’s why energy chains often end up in industrial waste and are sent for incineration at the end of their lives. igus therefore decided to launch its Chainge recycling initiative in 2019 to prevent this happening. Customers have been using igus’ recycling programme to send end-of-life energy chains – by any manufacturer – to Cologne since then. That’s were igus transforms them into regranulate. In return for the old chains, customers receive vouchers. “What started as a small idea has rapidly gained momentum. We’ve already collected and recycled more than 60 tonnes of high-performance plastics since the launch of Chainge. Half of that in 2022 alone,” says Michael Blass, CEO at igus e-chain systems. Chainge was expanded in October 2022. “The feedback was so positive that we decided to think even bigger about recycling. That’s why, besides energy chains, we started to add other engineering-plastic components to the recycling programme to accelerate the transition to a circular flow economy.”
Digital marketplace for recyclates
igus is also planning to include more locations in the programme and expand its recycling network as Chainge continues to grow. “That means that, in future, we’ll be able to recycle products not only at our headquarters in Cologne, but worldwide,” says Blass. The platform is simultaneously a digital marketplace that allows users to access selected recycled materials. “That also makes it very easy for customers across the globe to procure reprocessed materials that can then be used to create new and high-quality plastic components.”
The igus recycling platform is also a digital marketplace for recycled materials. (Image: igus GmbH)
The world’s first energy chain made using 100% recycled material has already been realised in conjunction with Chainge. Michael Blass: “What’s special about it is that everything we offer comes from a single source. We’re a producer and supplier of plastics, a provider of assembly services and a waste-disposal company as well as a producer and supplier of recycled materials that can be used again to create new products. What we do is unique this way and allows us to work with our customers to transform plastic into a sustainable resource.”
igus cooperating with start-up cirplus
igus has now won cirplus as a partner for the digital trading of standard recycled materials with the intention of advancing the digital circular flow economy even further. Cirplus is a Hamburg-based start-up that operates a digital marketplace for waste-disposal companies, recyclers and product manufacturers through which they’re able to purchase standardised recycled materials in a secure, traceable and cost-effective way – and to do so worldwide. This team of technology and digital experts is in this way encouraging the networking of the plastics and recycling industries.
Setting a joint course for the next level of digital trading with recycled materials produced using engineering and standard plastics: Michael Blass, CEO for energy-chain systems at igus GmbH (left) and Christian Schiller (right), CEO at cirplus. (Image: igus GmbH)
Both companies are now pursuing a shared vision of closing the material cycles for plastics and are even talking about starting a revolution in the trade for recycled materials made using engineering and standard thermoplastics. The aim is to establish reliable and transparent supply chains for recycled plastic materials by combining digitalisation with standardisation. Combining these two aspects will in future enable customers to benefit from a network that links the trade in recycled materials produced using technical and standard thermoplastics and that makes procurement from a single source both easy and transparent. The two companies intend to work together and set the course for the next level of digital trading in recycled materials and are envisioning the opportunities of a strategic partnership that ‘offers potential for building the world’s largest AI platform for circular plastics’. “The experience that igus has acquired in the field of engineering plastics and our expertise in the field of digitalisation and standard thermoplastics create ideal conditions for paving the way towards a circular flow economy – across all industries,” says cirplus CEO Christian Schiller in summary.