Articles about packaging are usually about things being packed in. This time it is about the opposite of the packer - the depacker. After all, everything that goes into a package must come out again too.
Fabiaan Hendricks (left) and Sander Derks (right) with Smicon’s depackaging unit
The cogs of the machine
“Our company is originally rooted in the agricultural sector,” says Fabiaan Hendricks of Smicon. This machine manufacturing company can be found in Wanroij, in the Dutch province of Brabant. “Company Director and Founder, Tonnie Smits, started out in construction and barn installations. He then moved to liquid feed installations.”
“In this way, we came into contact with the processing of organic waste streams. We saw a need, in particular, in the processing of residual waste in the potato sector. A machine was needed that could lift waste streams in the entire fruit and vegetable sector to new heights. Here, waste materials are usually converted into livestock feed or used as fuel for organic composters.”
“People in the recycling world later asked us for a machine that can be used while the products still contained packaging materials,” Fabiaan continued. “We then focused on ways to depack these products in two, sometimes three steps. That has worked well in the large recycling companies. We, however, wanted to integrate these depacking steps in one machine that separates the packaging from the organic material.”
“We applied this to four machine groups that all have different functions - the depacker, the shredder, the grinder, and the screw press. Besides these machines, we offer a range of other machines too - pumps for the transportation of organic mulch and cleaning systems to sanitize crates, pallet boxes, and waste bins.”
“Our depacking machines have a wide range of capacities,” says Smicon’s Sander Derks. “These machines can process up to 40 tons of residual waste per hour. Fruit and vegetable companies in the Benelux region often do no process these quantities of rejected or returned products themselves. They mostly use a local specialized company for this. These businesses then also collect about 100 or 200 tons per day from supermarkets and producers too. This includes all kinds of products, not just apples or pears. There are also foods like biscuits, butter, and bread.”
“The depackers are, therefore, perhaps less attractive to companies in the fruit and vegetable sector. The grinders and screw presses, however, certainly are,” says Fabiaan. “They are used a lot at the larger potato processors. These companies often process about five to fifteen tons of potato peels and by-products, alone, using our machines. These residual streams’ end products are used in, for example, the company’s fermentor. It can also be stored in silos to later be used as livestock or other things.”
Making waste streams valuable
“In recent years, we have seen a change in the use of residual streams,” says Sander. “Our machines used to mainly be used to make companies waste streams more compact. This lessens the volumes that needed to be transported, and so is good for the bottom line, saving money. Nowadays, businesses are placing far more value on their waste streams.”
“They consult with specific partners on how they can extract even more valuable raw materials from these residual streams, and whether this will be profitable for them. Think, for instance, of the oils that can still be extracted from orange peels or materials for bioplastics. You could even upgrade waste streams to use as the nutrient medium for protein production, among other things. This is an entirely different approach than ten years ago.”
At the same time, the sector is looking for ways to reduce their fruit and vegetable waste and their use of packaging materials. “I do not think this will be a big issue for processors’ business operations,” says Sander. “Consumers do want less plastic packaging and want to eat more sustainably.”
“But, when we stop at the supermarket in the evening, we want to have a wide range to choose from, such as very diverse vegetable mixes. The client's choice is directly responsible for not everything being sold, which means you will always have to deal with waste streams. People want to be able to pick and choose. When their choice is limited, they will go to the competition.”
“Whether the product is packaged or not, and what kind of packaging was used, makes no difference to us. The machine breaks open all sorts of packaging. Sorting can also still be done once the product comes off the line. A magnet can, for example, be used for cans, and further sorting can be done with a wind shifter. This device blows light packaging into a compactor. This sorting allows us to reach a very high level of separation efficiency,” explains Derks.
“We have noticed a trend where foodstuffs producers want to have control of their residual waste processing, for several reasons. To respond to this and other changes in the market, we have smaller versions of our processing machines for the smaller players on the market. We have demo versions of most of our machines, too,” concludes Sander.