Establishing a strong and stable market for recycled plastics in the UK has been no small feat, Chris Hanlon, Biffa Polymers explains how it was achieved.
Ten years ago many manufacturers wouldn’t consider using recycled plastics because of issues with quality and consistency. The good news is that research and development by the waste and recycling sector has led to a growing supply of fit-for-purpose recycled plastics, giving confidence to manufacturers and in turn driving demand for what used to be a waste stream.
Plastics have been identified as a priority in developing a circular economy. Each year, the UK processes more than 4 million tonnes of plastics. Incredibly, almost half of this is for single-use disposable applications, such as packaging and disposable consumer items.
Between 20% and 25% is used in long-term infrastructure such as pipes, cable coatings and structural materials such as windows, and 6% in automotives, according to a report by WRAP.
Another study by WRAP and Valpack suggested that annually around 1.6 million tonnes of recyclable plastics enter the UK household waste and recycling system, yet only half a million tonnes are being recycled.
Whilst householder behaviour has an impact on the supply of materials for the reprocessing sector, maintaining and building demand for recycled plastics continues to be of equal importance.
Recycling mixed plastics
Biffa Polymers mixed plastics facility in Redcar buys plastics from local authority kerbside recycling collections and recycles the material for use in the British manufacturing sector. It was built with support from WRAP on behalf of the government, and features integrated washing and sorting systems specifically designed to recycle mixed plastic packaging.
The added value processing of mixed plastics here delivers economic benefits in the UK, diverts more waste from landfill, and reduces our carbon emissions.
Polypropylene-rich materials are recovered from the mixed recycling waste stream and converted into a clean, washed regrind flake ready to be used in a vast range of applications in the agricultural, automotive and packaging sectors.
Having access to a wide range of feedstock and the appropriate tools for the job (such as granulation, washing and extrusion equipment) gives the control to mix a variety of feedstock, additives, pigments, fillers and stabilisers to produce materials to agreed specifications.
Closing the loop with industrial customers means offering a wide range of polymers from many different industrial sources.
Supplying recycled plastics to the manufacturing sector
Delivering consistently high quality recycled polymers to the British manufacturing sector is vital if a high level of confidence in recycled products is to be maintained, and in turn maintain the market demand for what would otherwise be waste.
To do this an on-site laboratory monitors and continually tests our outputs to ensure both quality, and consistency, are optimised.
Currently in the UK all new milk bottles are made up of a minimum of 30% recycled material.
The process developed to achieve this is the result of years of research, development, testing and monitoring. For example, at the Redcar facility, before rHDPE is given a food grade approval, it passes through three different stages incorporating some 17 processes.
From the input of the feedstock into the Advanced Recycling Facility (ARF) line, through the vacureema process employed in the food grade production hall through to a fully accredited laboratory (which is traceable to national standards), the material is constantly tested in process and rigorously analysed to parts per billion before being certified as safe for food applications.
Injection Molding & Recycled Plastic: The Environmental and Industrial BenefitsPlastic is a durable and flexible material that can be used for a wide range of purposes while also being easy and economical to recycle for use in injection molding and other industrial processes As well as reducing our reliance on landfill, recycling plastic also reduces the amount of raw materials needed, reducing ground pollution and greenhouse gas emissions stemming from the production of new plastic. Using a tonne of recycled plastic bottles (rPET or rHDPE) in new bottles saves around a tonne of CO2 eq Most importantly, recycling plastics with injection molding comes without any loss in quality. Recycled plastic can be of any color or type required by the end user, whether they need a flexible plastic part or a unit that requires a high degree of tensile strength. When combined with the fast production time found in the plastic molding process, this makes it an ideal choice for rapid prototyping or large-scale production alike By applying recycling to the plastic injection molding process it becomes easy to create a closed industrial materials process, where used parts are recycled and provide the material needed for new plastic components. A company can thus not only provide excellent parts for its customers, but also assist them in recycling their older components Using recycled plastics in the injection molding process is not only environmentally responsible, but it also can reduce the company’s material expenses. This is especially true given the fact that the price of new plastic can often be impacted by unexpected changes in petrochemical prices. Finally, the company can pass those savings back to its customers, helping to create a loyal customer base Any company that is using recycled plastic in its industrial process can benefit from the public’s perception that the business is working to protect the environment. This benefits the company’s reputation and actually improve sales among customers for whom environmental responsibility as a high priority Ultimately, making use of recycled plastic in plastic molding and other industrial processes is a beneficial decision at every level. For this reason, wise businesses are likely to see the use of recycled plastic as the shape of things to come.
By Chris Hanlon, commercial manager at Biffa Polymers
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