The whole planet is trying to find sustainable solutions for the future and the spotlight is currently on waste management and ways of using rubbish as a resource and valuable commodity rather than landfill. In fact in some regions landfill mining is taking place. The drivers are diminishing resources, the environmental aspects of new products and legislation. Particularly in the automotive, electronic (WEEE) and packaging sectors there is very specific regulation placing a requirement on the manufacturer to recover a very high proportion of the materials used in each product. Law firms such as Joachim Quoden specialise in this area. The new motivator is that there is value in end of life plastics, and a vast global trade has developed with rapid growth in the past few years. One of the top companies in trading recycled plastics is Gemini Corporation and the President, Surendra Borad Patawari, is a leading figure in solid waste management. The industry has broader economic benefits, for example in the USA there has been significant job creation from recycling as reviewed by the Southeast Recycling Development Council.
Besides recycling and material recovery, plastics are an excellent source of energy in waste to energy incinerators, which are well established in some cities. More recently plastics have been viewed as a source of chemicals following processes such as pyrolysis to syngas, leading to the possibility of complete closed loop recycling. Klean Industries with an HQ in Canada develops plant worldwide for chemical and energy recovery, which it claims are very economic to run. There are advanced technologies for recovering monomers from specific plastics including PVC (solutions from SolVin) and polyurethane. H & S Anlagentechnik has chemical recycling technology to recover PU foam. The latest announcement in this field comes from 3M Advanced Materials, which is working on fluoropolymer recovery. In addition, there are many sites converting plastics to a diesel fuel and this is growing, for example, one of the latest reports showed farmers recovering dirty agricultural plastics and converting them to diesel to power tractors. In the UK the waste management company SITA is producing diesel from waste plastics.
There is a range of ways to recover plastics materials and some of these are more highly developed in specific areas. There are specific technologies for individual plastics recycling and these separate material streams can be reformulated to replace lost additives and preserve properties, then put back into the production process to generate new plastics components. For example, PET bottle recycling is now fairly well established thanks to the brand owners like CocaCola and Nestle with advanced programmes and partners. One of the biggest PET bottle recyclers is Artenius PET Packaging Europe (APPE) based in France. Biffa Polymers has just made a big breakthrough in HDPE milk bottle recycling back to food-contact grade plastic. The wider picture of waste collection and packaging recycling has been studied recently by Plarebel in Belgium and Eco-Emballages in France. There is extensive testing to make sure that recyclate is safely used in sensitive applications like food-contact.
MBA Polymers has studied the recovery of plastics from durable goods. Issues have been raised regarding the presence of halogenated flame retardants in recyclate and this is being studied to find sorting technology to identify plastics containing these additives: ICL-IP has reviewed the case of plastics from LCDs. In the automotive recovery industry the metal content is high value and it is taking longer to develop the plastics recycling aspect. Gruppo Fiori, the lead company in this field in Italy is reviewing this area. Items such as carpets are now routinely recycled at specialist locations: Desso has expertise in polyamide to polyamide recovery. There has been lots of debate about the presence of biodegradable plastics in the waste stream and OWS has expertise in this field. The mechanical equipment for sorting and identifying plastics waste continues to be refined, the leaders in this field include Next Generation RecyclingMaschinen and Starlinger. Mining companies have had to develop material separation technologies over centuries and some of this is applied to recycling of mixed wastes. The Mining School of Ales – C2MA in France has studied sorting technologies for plastics.
From brand owners to waste management companies, no one can afford to ignore the latest opportunities for recovering and getting value from used plastics. Applied Market Information is hosting a conference for End of Life Plastics 2013 in June in Cologne.