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Plastics & Elastomers
The material selection platform
Plastics & Elastomers

Quality Needs Demand Enhanced Plastics Recycling Processes

Luis Roca – May 14, 2020

Plastic RecyclingIt was estimated that the plastic consumption worldwide was 322 million tons in 2015, out of which 58 million tons were consumed in Europe that generated 25 million tons of wastes. These wastes were treated in different ways:

  • Incineration for energy recovery (39%)
  • Landfilling (31%), and
  • Recycling (30%)

These figures can be similar in other advanced economies on the planet, which gives the perspective of the scope of improvement possessed by recycling.

Recycling has been traditionally an important sector in the plastics industry due to economic and competitive issues. But, in the last few years factors such as environmental policies, circular economy and legislations are majorly driving the changes besides competitive aspects.

The European Union hopes to boost the recycling of plastics in a significant way by 2030 (400% higher than in 2015). Overall, the key challenges about recycling converge in one concept i.e. Quality. Today, technologies, policies, standards, and R&D are focused on quality improvement, thus, driving the market uptake of recycled plastics.

Explore, in detail, how different technologies that are found along the recycling value chain can be improved in order to maximize the amount of recycled plastics available for a new life.

Let’s begin with the material sorting…

Plastic Material Sorting

Most of the time, when recycling, there is a combination of different plastics that generally act as a contaminant to the one that needs to be recycled. The main cause is that its presence affects the final performance of the plastic to recycle in an important manner.

So, obtaining a pure and highly efficient separation of the material to be recovered is key to the success of subsequent steps in the value chain. It is crucial to evaluate waste or plastic products in the two phases regarding the separation of components.

On one hand, by having NIR separation equipment, it is possible to assess whether the material would be capable of being separated in a waste sorting facility, and therefore, reach the final recycler for the recovery process.

Semi-industrial NIR Optical Sortener
Semi-industrial NIR Optical Sortener

On the other hand, other possibilities can be approached focusing on separation in the recycling company sector by following a protocol given below.

  • Mills prepared from crushing various typologies of materials using mesh sizes from 1 mm to 25 mm in order to simulate the different particle sizes that are found normally.
  • Wet separation of components in the module line, enabled for washing, spinning and cyclone system for wet or dry cleaning and separation.
  • Separation of heavier materials from lighter ones using an elutriation system, where saving water can be a significant benefit. ZIG-ZAG equipment is suitable for separation sizes between 0.1 mm and 10 mm.
  • Separation of different polymers, as well as ferric and non-ferrous materials through the electrostatic and triboelectric separator, where the product is separated into the components, depending on electroconductivity in the combined field of corona discharge with the electrostatic field.

It is good to know that depending on the form, type of plastic material, bulk density and composition, there are different technologies for better plastic sorting. Some examples of less conventional wastes that can be sorted by less conventional technologies could be:

  • Foams
  • Cables
  • Injected plastic parts
  • Textiles, and
  • Cords/ropes

After these steps, the recovered materials can be subjected to different processability technologies to obtain final applications, and test specimens to analyze their final properties and processability, all this information will give valuable information about the goodness of the sorting process.

 »  Continue reading to learn more about how different technologies, policies, standards, and R&D are focused on quality improvement in order to drive the market uptake of recycled plastics.

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