«The starting point of our adventure was a group of people with differing professional backgrounds, what they had in common was the fact that they have been involved in previous operations in the design, furnishings and material recovery sectors», states Vincenzo Moramarco, the CEO of Ecoplen (Altamura, near Bari, Italy), that was last year registered in the innovative start-up register. «We began researching the market in 2005, in order to assess the feasibility of the idea of creating design objects made of regenerated plastic. Collaborative contacts were made with important Italian brand names, while we realized that despite the fact that this type of product was appealing to those in the field, there was a lack of a real market for the concept of a unique crafted item».
However both architects and designers proved enthusiastic about the proposal. But in practice there were difficulties connected to the practicalities of the industrialization process, the discontinuity due to the provision of suitable recycled materials, and above all the difficulty in being able to focus on quality and quantity, which were all major obstacles.
How did you overcome the problem?
The challenge was the creation of Ecodesign, a company that has specialized in collecting used packaging in the industrial and agricultural sectors. Our sorting center in Matera is involved in sorting the material that is then washed, reduced to suitable size and sent on for granulation, eliminating the risk of the inclusion of any non conforming materials. The material is then subjected to laboratory testing to ascertain the technical characteristics and then certifying its composition and physical and chemical features, thereby assuring a consistent and homogeneous product that can be used in the industrial sphere. This means that we have a stock of materials that is constantly being replenished with regenerated polyethylene of various density (LLDPE, LDPE, MDPE, HDPE). This has enabled us to become regular suppliers to companies specialized in the production of plastic film and pipes. Our relations with various clients, some of which are multinational companies, specialized primarily in the plastic pipe segment, that requires materials to the highest technical specifications has taught us the importance of stringent quality application in the production cycle and in laboratory testing.
How was Ecoplen established?
In 2014 we decided to take a further step ahead in the sector, in the production of finished products, based on the regenerated polyethylene applications that we used in Ecodesign. The result was the creation of Ecoplen, which is today the first company in the world to use not less than 70% regenerated product for the production of tanks, packaging, containers and bottles which are ideal for containing special liquids also with 5, 10, 20 and 25 litre capacity.
The registered trade name Rilene was developed by our research and development team. It is a resin obtained from regenerated polyethylene, which in the production of tanks is co-extruded and inserted between two layers of virgin polymer. This process has proved the true winning feature of the material, lamination enhances its mechanical properties in terms of elasticity and resistance. Another important aspect being the price, which net of the logistic cost, is extremely competitive particularly compared to products made using virgin plastic.
Our tanks boast the IPPR label of “,Second Life Plastic”, and they have recently been homologated by the Transport and Infrastructure ministry for the transportation of dangerous goods in ADR regime (Accord Dangereuses Route).
What are the production features of the new company?
The production line of the Matera factory using three Kautex blow moulding machines, also allows us to produce atypical products, thereby making it possible to offer the most suitable packaging for every kind of content. So that we can say that our initial idea, which began as an eco-sustainable venture, has transformed into a product that has all the quality features required of a technical article. Thanks to its exclusive contract with Ecodesign, Ecoplen is able to take advantage of constant supplies of regenerated raw material. Which is again an important aspect particularly in view of the instability of the virgin polymer market.
Ecodesign currently handles 6,000 tons of used plastic a year, part of which is used to supply foreign clients, while Ecoplen processes about 1,500 tons, plus a further 500 tons of virgin material used for the multi-layer with Rilene.
Which kind of markets have you started to supply?
Our main market consists of basic chemical companies, and those clients requiring containers for special liquids, detergents or hospital material. Laboratory tests confirm that Rilene is perfectly suited to food packaging also, although we are not currently producing them at the present. What we notice at present is that there is a cultural gap, as regenerated material is often considered in a negative manner, as if there were no difference between the recycled material sold decades ago and the material available today, processed using the most advanced technology.
In terms of geography we tend to supply the Italian market, predominantly the South of Italy.
What are your medium-term development plans?
I am confident that time will be on our side. As is the case in other sectors, heightened consumer awareness will become increasingly important to us. As nowadays many people are prepared to pay a little extra for fruit or a bottle of wine, if they know that it is the result of truly sustainable production choices, and they justify the expense as an ethical and environmental commitment. I believe that this way of thinking will increasingly be applied to our sector also.
We have invested to set up a production infrastructure using the most advanced machines capable of putting new concepts into practice. We are proud of the technical results achieved up to now and we are sure that economic satisfaction will also increase. In fact, the evolution of European and national regulations, the increase in incentives for the use of materials made from renewable resources, the fact that these kind of materials will be increasingly favoured in public tenders, will all serve to reward our commitment. To which must be added the satisfaction of having been able to do all this in the South of Italy, an area which is certainly not easy in terms of logistics, bureaucracy, local economy, making us even prouder of our efforts.