Plastic components: More sustainable than you think
As a producer of plastic components, igus® is often at the center of the discussion about the environmental impact of plastics as a whole and whether sustainability initiatives are in place. When most people hear the word plastic, they first think of single-use water bottles, cups, plates, utensils, etc. so this line of questioning makes sense. However, our high performance plastic components are actually more beneficial for the environment than both these single-use items and similar components made of metal. Read on to learn more.
As part of a company-wide push towards achieving carbon neutrality, the switch was made to green electricity in mid-2021 and climate-neutral gas in October 2021. This directly contributed to a 31.2% reduction in scope 1 and scope 2 CO2 emissions versus the previous year, even with an increase in total production hours. According to scopes 1 and 2, as of April 2022 we have achieved 95% climate neutrality, and continue to make progress towards our goal of complete carbon neutrality.
Other changes igus has made include a switch to new injection molding machines that are 40% more energy efficient than previous machines, replacing old lighting with LED lighting, and installing charging stations for electric vehicles at the igus headquarters in Cologne, Germany. The CO2 footprint of the top five best-selling materials of iglide bearings are available in the online shop, so they can be individually selected and compared. Efforts are being made to add even more CO2 footprint calculations over time.
Plastic versus metal
Many of you reading this may be thinking “Why should I bother switching from metal to plastic? Metals are already better for the environment!” However, the truth of the matter is metal components actually do more damage environmentally than plastic. This is largely due to the lubrication needed for metal components to operate successfully.
Out of all lubricant sold worldwide, 50% will end up in the environment. Considering that a single liter of lubricant can poison as much as 1 million liters of drinking water — and the demand for lubricants in 2019 amounted to nearly 37 million metric tons — this is a staggering figure. The high-performance plastics from igus avoid the need for external lubricants entirely, as solid lubricants are blended into the plastic material and can’t be pressed from the component.
Plastic components are also significantly lighter than metal components, leading to reduced fuel consumption and CO2 output in applications such as outdoor equipment, automobiles and aircraft. Plastic components also only require 10% of the energy that metal components require to be produced.
In the world of plastics, recycling has never been easy. Many plastics can’t be recycled at all, and most non-engineered plastics degrade with each round of recycling. However, igus has invested heavily in the recycling of plastics with a number of different programs & initiatives.
The first of these is the chainge program: a recycling program that allows customers to exchange old plastic cable carriers for a voucher (based on the weight of the cable carrier) able to be used to purchase new products. The cable carriers are unmixed and shredded, then sent to a recycling partner in Massachusetts to be processed back into material usable for making new cable carriers.
As an additional note, 99% of all rejects (sprues, defective parts) during igus' injection molding production are recycled and returned to the manufacturing process.
igus has also invested 5 million euros (roughly 5.49 million dollars) in Mura Technology Limited, an innovative company that has developed an entirely new method of plastic recycling using supercritical water that can process previously impossible-to-recycle plastics. This technology — Hydrothermal Plastic Recycling Solution (HydroPRS) — converts unsorted plastic waste into usable oil within 20 minutes. A single HydroPRS recycling plant can process 20,000 tons of plastic per year and reduce CO2 output by 28,180 tons — equivalent to the annual energy consumption of 4,914 households. The first commercial HydroPRS plant in Teesside, England is expected to begin operation in 2023.
Finally, for Cyber Monday in 2021 igus planted a tree for every online order placed that week, and has even committed to planting 10,000 trees in US National Forests by the end of 2023, with a long-term goal of planting over 100,000 trees.
Not bad for a plastics manufacturer, huh? Despite the preconceived notions surrounding plastics, igus has gone above and beyond to dispel the myth that their plastic components are worse for the environment than the alternatives, and commit to initiatives that improve their sustainability across the globe.
For more information about igus' sustainability efforts and initiatives, visit the igus sustainability webpage. If you have further questions or wish to discuss more about igus products or sustainability practices, contact an expert today.