UAB Umaras, which is registered in Utena and which has been working in the field of polyethylene film production for almost three decades, is currently focused on learning about the new requirements of the EU Green Deal. “Environmental protection and sustainability have always been very important for the company, but now the green policy is turning into specific laws and obligations for businesses. We are seeing this in our export markets, and this need is reflected in our customer preferences. Our goal is to properly prepare for the upcoming changes, so will definitely not be caught with our guard down.”
“I started running the company just last year, but in fact I have been working in this business for the past 20 years. My father wanted to prepare me for taking over the company, so I had to become acquainted with many processes and get to know the employees. When I reached the position of manager, in addition to many other ideas, I also recognised the company’s main objectives – to increase our contribution to the environment, social responsibility, sustainability and to contribute to the development of the circular economy,” said Milda Samsonaitė.
The General Manager revealed that she has always been interested in climate change and nature conservation. Therefore, the manager is happy with the EU’s Green Deal, which is creating laws to achieve objectives that sometimes involve turning abstract aspirations into a reality.
“These initiatives have given impetus to several new projects in the company. We are now implementing about 10 of those ideas in order to create products that use recycled raw materials, as well as plastic waste that has been collected from the oceans. We also use bio-based raw materials created from renewable sources. There are currently a lot of opportunities to be friendlier to nature, and we are exploring them all. However, we must create products that have the same properties as those made from primary raw materials. This is a big challenge that we are pursuing together, as both the company’s employees and its customers are interested in sustainability,” said the head of Umaras.
Developing sustainable products
One of Umaras’ newly developed products is already on the market – the so-called “stretch hood” film, which contains as much as 30% recycled raw materials. “Those indicators are really important. For example, in the United Kingdom, one of our export markets, taxes on non-recyclable films will be introduced from January 2022. These films must be either recyclable or contain 30% previously processed raw materials,” explained M. Samsonaitė.
The company is making rapid progress: it will soon launch a stretch hood and a thermal film with 50% recycled materials.
It takes a lot of time to develop, certify and introduce new products to the market, so the General Manager is happy to have a loyal team working in this field – from managers and technologists to all the employees, who have quickly understood the common objectives of the company. The company is extremely flexible in working with its customers. Most of the team are aware of the new requirements that await them and are preparing for change, but on the other hand, it takes some time to get used to these innovations, while making sure that the features of the new product are just as good as the previous ones.
“We are persistent. As well as starting to use already processed raw materials in our production, we have been looking for new solutions for a long time and are improving the recipes so the final products will have all the properties that our customers desire,” emphasised Samsonaitė.
By starting to produce films with 30-50% recycled raw materials, the company is also contributing to a reduction of the greenhouse gas effect, through methods that leave a smaller footprint.
Wide range of products
Umaras produces films of various spectra – from those intended for the food industry, as well as agriculture, industrial and construction packaging.
According to M. Samsonaitė, sustainable solutions are also being sought in barrier and laminated film production processes. “We are working on the development of fully-recyclable barrier and laminated films. This is not a straightforward process, as a barrier film typically consists of composite plastics, which cannot be separated before recycling. However, we are investigating several possibilities, such as using G Polymer, which is soluble in water, for the middle layer of the barrier film. After processing this barrier film, it is then immersed in water where the G Polymer dissolves, so the films of different densities separate and can then be recycled,” Samsonaitė revealed, discussing the technological subtleties.
Special raw materials can also be used for the production of laminated films, which allow for homogeneous plastics to be used and then recycled. The company currently purchases an MDO (machine-direction orientation) raw material, but intends to improve the necessary equipment and apply this technology itself.
Umaras is already working to complete the certification of one of its medium barrier recyclable films. It should also be noted that the company is aiming to certify all its newly developed products.
The company is also exploring the potential of bio-compostable film. “This raw material has already been certified, but we continue to perform tests and cooperate with our customers, as we want to make absolutely sure that these products are not harmful to nature. The principle of our company is as follows: we will not to launch a product that is not environmentally-friendly,” emphasised Samsonaitė.
The General Manager of the company also pointed out that all production improvements ultimately have a positive effect on the customers. Not only are they supplied with the highest quality and already partially processed products, but by purchasing such raw materials, the customers themselves contribute to the objectives of reducing pollution and “creating” a circular economy.
“We don’t even have to mention the fact that for many years, we have been producing a thinner film that has the strength characteristics of our previously thicker film. Such a film is lighter and less plastic is used in the end,” said Samsonaitė. Umaras exports its products to the Scandinavian countries, as well as to Iceland, the United Kingdom, Denmark, Netherlands, France, Germany, the Baltic States and other EU countries.
Vidūnas Tutkus, Deputy General Manager of UAB Umaras, pointed out that the company has always looked strategically at a number of green goals – it has clarified the possibilities of using bio-based raw materials, and has consistently been looking for ways to reduce its carbon footprint.
The company has embarked on an extremely ambitious project relating to the production of plastic with a press. “The press uses inks, thinners and volatile organic compounds, so there are some challenges. However, we want to stay completely clean in this area. We are currently completing an EU co-financed project under the “Eco-Innovations LT+” project, which is allowing us to develop a volatile incinerator for organic matter. In this way, all our exhaust air will be 99.9% cleaned of any volatile particles,” said Tutkus.
The company is currently implementing this project, which is worth about EUR 1 million, along with a number of other production improvements. For example, the company uses a lot of cold water in its production process, which is necessary to cool the equipment. At the same time, burning volatile organic compounds creates a lot of wasted heat.
“That energy will be refrigerated with a special convection cooler. By extracting the cold from the heat, we will save electricity. The main objective of the whole joint project is not only to ensure we can safely burn volatile substances, but also to save electricity and reduce the effect of atmosphere warming,” said the Deputy General Manager of UAB Umaras.
It is not an easy task for a company that produces plastic products to become “green” in an instant and to gain the trust of both customers and the public.
“Despite this difficulty, we are currently moving in that direction. Our customers want to know exactly what kind of pollution is created by our company or individual products. Therefore, we are involved in talks with several assessors, who are performing calculations that will help us learn more about all of our pollution indicators. We will then receive recommendations on our areas of activity that can become cleaner,” emphasised Tutkus.
The company already uses only green electricity produced from renewable sources, and is planning to install its own solar power plant.