Manufacturers that use plastics in their production processes have heard loud and clear that sustainability is increasingly important in every link of the plastics supply chain, all the way down to household consumers. However, the integrity and performance of a polymer or compound asked to do a certain job cannot move backward because of recycled content. Germany-based Baerlocher GmbH and Baerlocher USA, its Cincinnati-based subsidiary, say this is where producers of additives and stabilizers can play a vital role.
With the slogan “We add character to plastics,” the company has roots in the chemistry sector dating back almost 200 years to 1823. As of 2020, Baerlocher describes itself as “one of the world’s leading suppliers of additives for the plastics industry, offering polyvinyl chloride [PVC] additives and metal stearates for all plastic applications.”
The company says “an awareness and sense of responsibility for sustained development [play] an important role in all decision-making processes,” providing another reason why it has developed additives specifically for recycling applications.
Building on a base
Emphasizing recycling may seem new to a company with a 197-year history, but Baerlocher researchers say they did not have to start from scratch when developing these products. An example is Baeropol RST stabilizers, which Ian Query, a technical specialist with the Specialist Additives Division of Baerlocher USA, says have been on the market since 2015.
As customers making products from PVC and other resins began reaching out to Baerlocher as they developed their processes, Query says it was logical to build out from existing and long-proven stabilizers.
“Baeropol RST was the result of our company’s efforts to align our core competencies with the growing importance of recycling and sustainability,” Query says. “Because our stabilizer blend was based on Baerlocher’s existing technologies, we were able to quickly narrow in on opportunities while avoiding many of the problems associated with new product commercialization.”
The development effort was global and has found a receptive market in a variety of applications. “In Europe, Baeropol RST stabilizer technology is utilized by several companies involved in polyolefin recycling for film, pipe and automotive applications,” says Henrik Eriksson, a technical product manager with Unterschleissheim, Germany-based Baerlocher GmbH.
In some cases, Query says, customers had been trying additives used in other recycling applications, but they were not getting the results they needed and came to Baerlocher. “Customers have had issues with traditional stabilizer blends, such as phosphite blooming, discoloration and high cost,” he says. “The chemistry of Baeropol RST stabilizers offset these issues.”
The diversity of the global manufacturing sector, however, has meant customization in response to customer needs also has been inevitable for Baerlocher.
A growing family
Baerlocher often develops families of stabilizers and other additives, and it has found that a horizontal product range is helpful to customers working with recycled materials.
“One area where we have received a lot of positive feedback is about our variety of product forms,” Query says. “Currently, we offer our Baeropol RST stabilizers and T-Blends in sprayed prills, pastilles and pellet forms. These 100-percent active, low-dust/no-dust options are very beneficial for users who may have issues with dust control or powder feeding, which can be an issue for traditional stabilizer blends.”
Query says the company’s RST stabilizer product line “has been used to stabilize a variety of products, including pipe, wood-plastic composite for decking, blown and cast film, bottles, lawn furniture and others.”
In recycling applications, the company has connected with users of multiple resins, including those used in fast-moving consumer goods packaging. Query says, “Baeropol RST stabilizers are made with materials that have been approved for food contact and are available in various product forms, like prills and pastilles, which makes it compatible for many different processes.”
The response has been global, Eriksson adds. “In recycling, there is strong growth in the use of RST stabilizers. In fact, many new customers are currently in the process of evaluating various RST-based products for their applications. Pure Baeropol RST stabilizer also is used by some early adopters in custom additive blends, where it contributes to the overall performance alongside other specialty additives.”
The stabilizers are helping plastics recyclers get the results they need, Query adds. “Our RST technology not only provides added benefits to the chemistry, such as acid scavenging and corrosion resistance, but it also allows for the possibility of additional product forms.”
Query says he sees only wider and deeper involvement in recycling for Baerlocher in the decade ahead. “In 2020, the topic of sustainability and recycling touches every corner of our industry,” he says. “When it comes to these challenges, we’ve learned that no two issues are ever the same, but we have found some consistent themes: Additive solutions for recycling are not being utilized as much as they could be, and stabilization of polyolefin materials is strongly aligned with the goals of a circular economy.”
The root process for the company is not greatly different from what it has been doing for nearly two centuries, he says. “Throughout Baerlocher’s history, we have always made sure to focus on helping our customers with their challenges.”
As topics such as climate science, reducing emissions and addressing plastics in the ocean and wider environment have grown in prominence, Query says it has been gratifying to be part of the company’s response to create more sustainable paths forward for polymers.
“We are proud to be able to offer solutions, such as our Baeropol RST stabilizers, and provide expertise in this area,” he says. “Our involvement with groups like the Association of Plastic Recyclers and our outreach through webinars and conference presentations has been extremely rewarding as it has allowed us to connect with more companies in the industry and exchange ideas to help each other grow. We are very excited to be part of the conversation.”