RadiciGroup makes use of LCA analysis and EPD declarations in order to communicate environmental results in a transparent manner
Sustainability is one of those words that can mean everything or nothing. When accompanied by the word “environmental” there is the uncomfortable sensation of falling into green washing. However it is not possible to always unravel solely a set of figures and indicators that are usually incomprehensible to the public at large. If resources have been invested in order to reduce the environmental impact of industrial production on the environment it is only fair and justified to want to make it clear to all.
A host of stories
Sometimes, even an abstract sheet full of figures and data can tell a story, providing one knows how to read it. This is what Susanna Caprotti, EPD manager of the RadiciGroup Performance Plastics (Chignolo d’Isola, near Bergamo, Italy), tells us starting from the Environmental Product Declaration (EPD) of one of the most sustainable engineering polymers of the Bergamo based group, Heramid®, obtained from polymerization scrap, the polyamide production scrap for engineering use called Radilon® and the waste from Radici spinning mills. Which tells the story of how it is possible to obtain an inert material from scrap, and not only this. Going back to the beginning of the polymer production pipeline, it is possible to understand how investment into renewable resources or into the basic chemical processes has the capacity to reduce the environmental impact of engineering polymers, and therefore as a consequence on the finished manufactured products.
How an EPD is conceived
The Environmental Product Declaration is in fact only the final document that summarizes the performance of a material, giving an analytical list of the varied impacts of the entire production cycle, from the raw materials used to the conversion processes right up to the distribution stage. It is possible to see how much energy is needed and how it has been produced, the extent to which production impacts the acidification and the eutrophication of the environment, or on global warming, and how much waste is generated. Figures that are homogeneous and capable of being compared with others contained in other EPD sheets, as the analysis methodology used is the same.
This why, there are two equally important instruments at the base of the Product Declaration; the first of which is the Life Cycle Assessment analysis (LCA), which is an internationally recognized and applied methodology, which permits an evaluation of the environmental impact of any kind of manufactured item, throughout its life, from the input required to actually produce it, to its arrival at the hands of the consumer, and in certain cases to the management of product at the end of its life. The second instrument is the so-called Product Category Rules (PCRs), that are drawn up according to the specific production processes involved, in relation to a particular sector. Once these Rules have been drawn up and subjected to revision by third parties, these same rules can be used for every kind of product of the same type, such as various plastics families for example. It is thanks to this standardization, that in the case of engineering polymers, it is possible to obtain EPD declarations that are comparable between themselves, even if relating to different producers, and using processes which may vary within certain limits.
Susanna Caprotti explains: «When we decided to undertake product certification according to the ISO 14025 (EPD) standard, the first step was the analysis of the available Product Regulations. We found that the one relating to polymer production was dated, if not obsolete, while there was a lack of PCR relating to scrap recovery in the production of nylon yarns. By undertaking an analysis of the production processes in the Group’s factories in Novara (intermediate and polymer), Villa d’Ogna (nylon-based engineering polymers) and Chignolo d’Isola (scrap recycling), we were able to write, or rather, rewrite the Product regulations, and we then sent them to the Swedish representative body, International EPD® System, that approved them after having submitted them to a stringent revision procedure».
The Regulations that are available to anyone that wishes to draw up EPDs for plastics, even those of recycled origin, or yarns are PCR CPC no. 347 “Plastics in Primary Forms”, no. 8942 “Plastic Waste and Scrap Recovery” and no. 355 “Man Made Fibres – Filament or Staple”. These regulations however are not set in stone, and they are in fact updated every three years in order to adapt them to the laws, standards and the inevitable technological developments in production processes.
Two years to obtain the EPD
The procedure has proved fairly lengthy and has required the investment of resources by the Radici Group: the various PCRs were drawn up in 2012, while the first product certifications were only issued two years later. Today EPDs are available for certain grades of Radilon S and Radilon A (PA 6 e PA 6.6) and Heramid, with recycled raw material percentages of up to 94 per cent, that is practically all the polymer that makes up the compound (the remaining 6 percent consisting of a blend of fillers, additives and masterbatches). These two families make up over a third of the production undertaken at the factories in Villa d’Ogna and Chignolo d’Isola.
The most detailed EPD relates to Heramid, as it does not only incorporates the polymer production and the compounding (which it shares with Radilon), but also the recovery and recycling of the production scrap. The data indicated in the sheet relating to the production of a kilogram of compound, being fact divided into the phases of upstream Processes, Core Processes and Downstream Processes.
Susanna Caprotti points out: «The evaluation process that begins from the LCA analysis up to the Environmental Product Declaration not only provides the opportunity to calculate how low is environmental impact of the production of a regenerated polymer compound as compared to the virgin, but also allows us to effectively assess the effects on each unit of final product, of a kilogram of Heramid, and the energy and environmental efficiency actions undertaken at any stage of the production process». In other words it is possible to quantify, even in advance – what the impact is on the finished product in environmental terms, of the installation of an emission abatement system at the site of Novara, where the polymer is produced. In the same way it possible to compare the impact of two or more environmental investments in order to decide which is the most efficient for the entire production pipeline. This is possible both because RadiciGroup is vertically integrated, actually beginning from the production of renewable energy, and also because it has not limited itself to certifying the products in environmental terms, but it has applied the LCA analysis in a systematic manner to all the production processes.
Beyond green washing
The EPD manager of Radici Group goes on to point out :«By carefully reading the Product Declaration, that contains the description of the processes and the presence of every potentially harmful substance, it is possible to understand how a certain sector is developing and what are the best practices, and exactly how much attention and commitment the companies actually take in assuring environmental sustainability, irrespective of the public declarations made or the marketing strategies used, thanks to hard facts and comparable data».
Adding: «For example the EPD relative to Heramid A NER MP/1K (non fibreglass-filled version) it is clearly evident that 94 percent of the compound is made up of recycled PA 6.6 and the remaining 6 percent is made up of additives and masterbatch. Often compounders that use recycled materials have to add virgin raw material in order to reach the “specifications”, because not all producers are able to start from quality homogeneous scrap. These differences emerge on careful reading of an EPD».
The EPD of the Heramid family, also uncovers environmental strategies that go beyond the factory. For example the investments made by the Group in renewable energy, and particularly in hydroelectric energy (through Geogreen) – the output of which today covers the entire needs of the two Bergamo factories. So that 77 percent of the total energy consumed by RadiciGroup Performance Plastics comes from renewable energy.
What about those grades not already covered by the Product Declaration? Caprotti replies: «The procedures drawn up for the EPD certification process provide an effective methodology with reliable results in order to provide short environmental impact reports to those clients that use materials produced in Italian factories, not yet subject to EPD certification. While these reports are not certified, they are however based on the same methodology as used for the LCA developed for the Declarations, so that they can guarantee a high level of reliability. As they are also faster to draw up and easier to read».
Involvement in ecodesign
The EPD declaration is not the only target of RadiciGroup’s environmental policies. Susanna Caprotti concludes: «We are also working on ecodesign in recycling, and in particular in the development of products made up of a single material in order to facilitate the recovery of products which, due to their complexity are difficult to disassemble». And not only in the plastics sphere. «We can take the example of the clothing sector: and a garment entirely made of nylon from the fabric to the padding, right down to the zips and buttons, which could, at the end of its life, be sent to a separated waste collection container and then sent for recycling without requiring any pre-treatment».
Going back to plastics, in the search for new outlets for recycled materials, RadiciGroup has developed a new polyamide compound for the coating of the extruded steel wires used in the manufacture of protective and security structures made of metallic mesh. It having been developed as part of the LIFE+Inno.Pro.Wire research project, which involved collaboration between RadiciGroup and Officine Maccaferri and Samp Sistemi. As compared to traditional solutions, the technical features of the recycled PA 6 resin would make it possible to achieve a 20 percent reduction of the wire coating thickness and an increase of between 30-50 percent increase in the actual working life of the product, the metal cage. The polyamide also guarantees enhanced resistance to mechanical damage during the installation and use of cages themselves.