Interview with Frank Heimann, Advansa: Re-duc...
Interview with Frank Heimann, Advansa

Re-ducing, re-using and re-cycling

Frank Heimann, Managing Director (Source:Advansa)
Frank Heimann, Managing Director (Source:Advansa)

Plastic pollution is a global problem of increasing concern. With improper waste management, a significant fraction is entering our natural ecosystem and oceans. Plastic materials are estimated to break down in about 500 years. Biodegradable plastics could be part of the solution against plastic pollution.

Synthetic fibers are also plastics. What is Advansa's contribution as a fiber manufacturer to minimizing plastic waste and microplastics in the oceans?
As a fiber producer mainly in the nonwovens and home textiles industry, Advansa has a long-term engagement to improve the environmental footprint of our fibers. Already since 2010 Advansa has been investing in premium technology to convert recycled plastics into premium fibers such as shortcuts for wetlaid application, PET for drylaid nonwovens and tow for flock for premium end uses.
The use of recycled plastics in itself is already reducing the amount of virgin plastics coming into the market.
Our partnership with Plastic Bank contributes to different sustainable development goals. It is estimated that up to 10 million tons of plastic waste enters the ocean from coastal communities each year.
Plastic Bank creates social and environmental impact in areas with high levels of poverty and plastic pollution by turning plastic waste into currency. Their mission is to encourage people to recycle plastic through collection in exchange for money, goods or services needed in their community. Advansa is partnering with Plastic Bank to take action against plastic waste. Plastic collected by Plastic Bank (Social Plastic) is cleaned and mechanically recycled before being used by Advansa as a valuable raw material in fiber production. Hence, Advansa gives customers the opportunity to participate with a complete Adva product range in this important project.
With a range of sustainable products Advansa also produces fibers from biopolymers like PLA made from renewable sources. These fibers are also biodegradable under industrial composting conditions. However, to make use of these capabilities the fibers have to be collected separately from the standard waste stream. Otherwise, it is mixed up with all other materials thus losing the biodegradability benefits.

Advansa strictly follows the order of re-ducing, re-using and re-cycling. At the end, there might be a portion of fibers left over which for various reasons do not fit into the previous given options.
Advaterra is one option for this share of end-uses or fibers to prevent a long-time pollution with plastics in the world. With Advaterra, Advansa is at the beginning of the development of fibers with enhanced capabilities for biodegradation. Test results according to ASTM D5511 confirmed these capabilities and form the basis for R&D activities towards a portfolio designed for enhanced biodegradation.
All the same, biodegradation should always be the last defense line to prevent plastic pollution and contamination through microplastics.
Reducing waste materials, re-using products as long as possible and recycling as much as possible should be our key driver to reduce plastic pollution.

Performance and sustainability – can both points be reconciled in the new fibers?
Advansa’s sustainable fiber range makes no compromise in performance like food contact approval or other technical requirements. Especially the recycled Advaeco fibers and also Advaterra can compete against all commercial virgin PET fibers used in various applications on the market.

What could a sustainable textile and nonwovens industry look like in future?
A sustainable textile and nonwovens industry will manage to keep their materials in the value chain as long as possible and will keep it re-used and recycled as often as possible. The industry will commit to high recycling quotes and to Zero emission by a certain time.
The product design and manufacturing of each application will support these ultimate goals from all industries.
The collection, sorting and recycling of all waste materials will be essential to give used materials a new lifetime and prevent usage from non-renewable sources. Products not being recycled need to be collected and sorted to a maximum rate. They might be used for thermal generation of energy if sun is not shining and windmills stand still.
Maybe even degassing in biomass facilities to generate energy is an option for a number of products.

What is the role of the industry, and what is the role of the consumer?
The industry has to commit to the sustainable development goals already fixed by the UN years ago to a maximum extent.
Eco-balancing will be key to evaluating which materials are used to protect our environment.
Value chains need to be analyzed based on environmental impacts like energy mix of origin countries, distance of delivery, product lifetime, etc. “Sourcing local” is a valuable concept for the industry if it is environmentally beneficial.
The customers drive the effort of the industry by their demand. Responsible customers generate responsible demand satisfied by a responsible industry perhaps with a bit legal framework by responsible governments.

The corona pandemic has led to major changes in many aspects of our lives. What are the biggest challenges and changes for the nonwovens industry during and after the corona pandemic?
With the corona pandemic it is seen that the value chains in a globalized world are very sensitive. With supply issues all over the world especially rising transport cost and availability from Asia, sourcing strategies have to be re-adjusted and further strategies like local sourcing will gain more importance to keep the mills running.
However, for our environment we need a much stronger commitment to our environmental goals to limit the global warming as much as possible.
We should urgently invest in sustainable solutions and technology in order to prevent global warming so that we don’t have to deal with flood protection, drought and forest fires.
We need a legal framework to enable economic availability of sustainable products.
How can it be that a petroleum-based virgin plastic from abroad is cheaper than a sustainable recycle plastic from e.g. Europe. These circumstances are contradicting global environmental goals towards a sustainable future. This opens a new topic for discussion to unify consumers, industry and politics for the benefit of our planet.

Social Plastic, Adva = registered trademarks
The interview was conducted by Mechthild Maas, editor of TextileTechnology, with Frank Heimann, Managing Director of Advansa Manufacturing GmbH, Hamm/Germany.


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