Not all recycled materials are created equal

Written by: Ultrapolymers Ltd | Published:

The use of plastic and plastic waste has been a hot topic for the general public following Sky’s ‘Ocean Rescue’ and BBC’s ‘Blue Planet II’. The benefit that plastics offers is frequently understated, whilst the focus all too often falls on the growing issue of plastic waste in the ocean. With this in mind, it is very important that we designers, polymer suppliers and innovators look at how we can improve recyclability of products, in addition to finding an outlet for these products at the end of the life cycle.

Over-packaging of products has been a focus for many years, with a large number of food producers streamlining how they promote and package their products.Plastic packaging can increase shelf life (wrapped cucumbers for example last more than three times longer than unwrapped1), however sometimes it is unnecessary (such as the now obsolete peeled orange, supplied in a plastic box2).

When assembling multi-component products, the less complicated the material selections, the better. Mixed-media packaging, whilst attractive, can inhibit the recycling mind-set in the average consumer.Simplicity is key. If the whole assembly can be recycled as a single entity, the greater the chance it will actually find its way into the recycling stream at the end of its life. If the component needs to be taken apart, it is more likely to go to landfill.When considering assemblies where the product has to have an end of life strategy, smart design can enable the use of clips instead of metal screws, whilst also offering cost benefits in the assembly process.

Returning to the theme of ocean waste, Proctor & Gamble announced that it would be launching a bottle manufactured from post-consumer recycled plastic together with plastic recovered from the ocean.Recovery and re-use of this waste is great for the environment and an admirable step. In the UK and elsewhere in Europe our aim has to be to maximise the effectiveness of the recycling chain and to stop the waste making its way into the ocean in the first place. Converters are also realising the increasing importance of having environmentally friendly public perception3. However, material selection and improved polymer understanding is of paramount importance.

Post-consumer waste is only one source of waste to be considered. Post-industrial waste, generated from procedures such as start-ups, transitions and purging, together with petrochemical waste from the polymer manufacturers, also needs to be considered.Ravago Plastics, the parent company of the Ultrapolymers group, manufactures products from petrochemical and post-industrial waste, and offers an extensive range of polypropylene compounds under the brand name Mafill®.Mafill® grades offer a good balance of cost and performance, whilst some products also carry approvals within the automotive industry.A key benefit of petrochemical waste as a feedstock source, is that the final compound has less thermal history, resulting in a superior performance and consistency compared to compounds manufactured from post-consumer recyclate.

Complementing the Mafill® range, Ravago manufactures an assortment of alternative high-quality recycled materials such as Ravalene® (PE), Sicostirolo® (GPPS & HIPS), Sicoflex® (ABS), Mablex® (PC/ABS) and Ravamid® (PA). Domo, our key partner for polyamide, offers Econamid® (rPA), a range of sustainable PA6 and PA66 compounds.These compounds are based on high quality ‘in-house’ post-industrial nylon fibre waste feedstock, and feature long-term consistency of specification. Thus, Domo can be confident in promoting the notion that these grades offer the best quality available in the market for a recycled PA material, whilst offering the desired green credentials at the same time.

Recycled raw materials, or finished products that can be recycled easily, are not the only routes to a green solution.There are now a number of material options that are classed as biodegradable or manufactured from renewable sources. These are becoming an increasingly attractive option as items manufactured from such materials can be identified as biodegradable or used for compost.Moreover, materials from suppliers such as Lati (brand name LATIGEA®) and FKuR can, in some cases, be mixed in with green waste and composted at home.

There has been a focus in the past week on the mixed material media currently used in takeaway coffee cups and how these can be recycled. There are only a few facilities in the UK which can recycle the current mixed-media cups. The problem may only be resolved by investing in more recycling facilities to promote the recycling concepts, or by switching from mixed-media cups to more easily recyclable, or reusable, products.The authorities are increasingly favouring a ‘carrot and stick’ approach to consumer choices, and a number of outlets offer price reductions for consumers bringing reusable cups4, otherwise known as the ‘latte levy’.

To this end, the consumer now has the power to drive change, and this desire for an alternative approach, backed up by necessary legislation that further promotes recycling, will ultimately increase the use of recycled or recyclable raw materials.Recently, a strategy was announced by Environment Secretary, Michael Gove, to promote more recycling. The strategy was summarised in four main points.

  • Reduce the number of plastics that are in use to make it easier for recycling firms;

• Cut single-use plastics such as straws and coffee cups;

• Improve the recycling rate, which has been slipping;

• Make it easier for families to differentiate between the packaging materials that can be recycled, and those that have to end up in the general rubbish bin

Considering the full lifetime of consumer products, the use of plastics can have a significant environmental benefit by reducing overall component weight through metal replacement (thereby helping to reduce CO2 emissions from vehicles through more cost-effective use of transport) or in utilising recycled polymers, which require less energy in the manufacturing process than virgin materials.

Ultrapolymers carries an extensive range of polymers which are compatible with typical waste streams in the UK. In addition to these market leading materials, Ultrapolymers offers a variety of recycled polymers from a range of sources.

Whatever part you want to manufacture, material selection and design is key.At Ultrapolymers we can offer you guidance all the way from initial design through to final manufacturing, in order to get the most out of your plastic material and your finished product. Ultrapolymers can also support you in the selection of the most appropriate industrial or prime material to meet mechanical requirements and performance criteria, whilst considering other significant factors such as batch to batch consistency.

For further information, #AskUltra today and we will put forward the best solution for you.

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