Monday, March 30, 2009

Recycled News on Recycling of Plastics

Certainly this is not surprising, but a new SRI report shows that plastics recycling is still have a negligible impact in displacing virgin resins. I certainly don't see that changing anytime soon either.

I've worked for 4 different companies in various industries for nearly 20 years now, and in my current job I've worked with dozens of additional companies. I've yet to encounter a single example of using post-consumer waste in any product. (Post-industrial waste?. Now that's a different story. See below.)

So what circumstances would need to change in order to reach this eco-utopia where industry uses a significant amount of post-consumer waste? I don't think that that is possible. Post-consumer waste is far too variable in color, rheology, and quantity (i.e., the available quantity is not always constant, and many end-uses require more resin than is available). Many applications have very high performance standards, such as healthcare devices, (I don't expect the FDA to approve recycled HDPE resins in implant situations anytime soon). When people's safety is involved, no company is going to want to take the risk.

Post-industrial recycling is far more common, as it avoids most of the problems listed above. Many processors will simple grind up their own waste and add it to their own feedstream instead of paying for the waste disposal, but even in that has limitations. There are plenty of examples where even in such a controlled situation, the processor will not use the recycle because the polymer has been damaged (by heat and mechanical stresses) too much for it to not significantly degrade the performance of a product.

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