Manufacturers responsibility for plastics recycling

By February 7, 2020General

If anyone were to ask me the question “Should manufacturers take more responsibility for their end-of life plastics recycling?”, I would answer “yes” without hesitation.

Product design

All too often what will happen to plastic products at the end of their economic or useful life is not considered in the design process.

I recall visiting a stand at a trade show last year. The business specialised in helping other firms design their products. There were no potential customers on the stand, so I went over and asked the two representatives whether they designed with any consideration for end-of-life.  They both replied “no”. I guess my face was a picture, because a slight backtrack answer came – “unless the customer asks for it”. I parted with the comment that surely that had some moral obligation to consider end-of-life use / re-use / recycling / or not!

Contamination

One of the main reasons that we decline materials at Aylesbury Gramulation Services is due to their contamination. In many cases, this is not dirt contamination,  but contamination added to the product at the point of manufacture and / or assembly.

A classic example is sanitary bins. As a business of just two people with no optical sorters or sink float facilities, we had to sort this waste stream by hand.  On most bins the body was made from PP, but some were made from ABS.  The foot pedals were made from either nylon or ABS – but looked identical. The lids were made primarily of ABS, but many were PP.  Also many had inner flaps made of yet another polymer.

We were able to separate each polymer (a lot of the time having to read the recycling logo!) and recycle almost all of the materials. However, the labour involved was excessive.

Bigger firms would use a sink / float process to take out the material that they wanted – but that operation results in ABS and Nylon co-mingled and therefore being disposed of, as they both act the same way under sink float  conditions.

There is no obvious reason why all parts could not be made from the same polymer.

The next biggest contaminate is metal – mainly screws.  In so many instances plastic lugs or plugs could be used.  Toys are an obvious culprit for this – they are strewn around MRFs country-wide containing a myriad of screws and rivets (as well as multiple polymers)

Manufacturer responsibility

I get very frustrated when I eventually manage to track down the manufacturer of an item that I have been asked to be recycled, only to be met with a brick wall on a request for information regarding its material properties.

It is not always easy to ascertain a polymer of a product without excessive testing, which is not always possible or viable.

Whilst there are exceptions, in my experience manufacturers do not take sufficient responsibility to help those of us trying our hardest to ensure that as much plastic as possible is ethically recycled and re-used back into plastic manufacturing.