As global vehicle manufacturers navigate the challenge of balancing the need to comply with environmental regulation with rising energy costs and the rocketing demand for vehicles in emerging economies, one material is becoming increasingly important: plastics. Fibre-reinforced plastic composites offer a 25%-35% weight reduction compared to equivalent steel parts of the same strength. And of course, lighter cars mean greater fuel efficiency and lower emissions.

The automotive and chemical industries are therefore collaborating to develop optimal plastics and polymer-based components – with the knowledge that regulators are stepping up their focus on recyclability as well as emissions. AT Kearney notes that collaboration will be fundamental to catalysing breakthrough innovations, from the design stage to investigating new production and assembly processes, such joining plastics and metals. Importantly, collaboration will be needed throughout the complex automotive-plastics value chain, including the creating of a downstream recycling industry.

This is a trend that was already recognised in 2010 by market intelligence site ICIS. In 2013, leading chemical company BASF won an Altair Enlighten Award – an award specifically recognising vehicle light-weighting achievements – for its development of a thermoplastic composite front seat pan.

The average vehicle weight has dropped by 20%, according to research by AT Kearney, which translates into a similar reduction in per-vehicle emissions. European analysts predict that by 2020, the average vehicle weight will shrink to a little more than a tonne – its 1970 level – after peaking at nearly 1.5 tonnes in 2010.

Interestingly, electric power trains result in heavier cars, accounting for 20% of a vehicle’s total weight, whereas standard combustion engines account for 12% of vehicle weight, says AT Kearney. The firm also expects that within the next decade, plastics will account for 18% of the average vehicle’s weight, up from 14% in 2000.

In addition to light weighting, using the right plastics can also help to achieve improved resistance, stiffness and aesthetics (through greater versatility in design) and reduce noise, vibration and harshness.

As chemical companies compete to fulfil the needs of automakers, they will face challenges in the shape of more competition from steel, oil price volatility, product shortages and recyclability. This is where talking to MBA Polymers can help – we can advise chemical companies and carmakers on the optimum grades of plastic to use in terms of recyclability – and naturally we can offer carmakers the option to source high quality recycled plastic too.

Some manufacturers may consider using bioplastics, although the difficulty here is that there’s currently no standard process to recycle bioplastics effectively and they can otherwise take a long time to degrade, just like standard PET.

Peter Mackrell

Here’s our Quality Control Manager, Peter Mackrell, explaining why automotive shredder residue (ASR) makes a high quality source material. The ASR we receive through our joint venture partnership with EMR is comprised of 75% plastics (and 25% wood, rubber, foam and trace quantities of metal). The majority of these plastics are polypropylene, which is a strong material used for car bumpers. We also receive ABS and polystyrene – these plastics have typically been used in high end applications in the interior of the car. All these high quality materials can be recycled to deliver excellent performance in their next life.

Ultimately, high quality plastics will be increasingly important to the automotive industry. We’re keen to play a role in the expansion of a high quality plastics recycling industry at a global level – and we need policymakers and manufacturers worldwide to join us in making this a reality.

A community group in Sussex, UK, is supporting MBA Polymers by collecting and donating used plastic bottle tops for recycling on a regular basis.

Cuckfield Local began collecting plastic milk bottle tops in 2013. A team of volunteers works hard to raise awareness of the collection via its village newsletter, and holds a ‘Cap it off’ collection once a month at the local food market. As market goers and local residents got into the swing of donating their milk bottle tops, Cuckfield quickly scaled up its collection to encompass all types of hard plastic bottle tops.

The group soon came to hear about MBA Polymers’ work through MBA’s CEO, Nigel Hunton, himself a Sussex resident, and forged a link with the company.

Now, the group collects approximately two crates of tops per month. It separates the milk bottle tops, and gives all the other tops to MBA Polymers. Just last month, MBA received 27kg of tops from the group. The milk bottle tops go to a company in Portsmouth to be recycled into garden furniture for children.

“I’m delighted that people near my home town want to support our plastic recycling operations,” says Hunton. “It’s encouraging to see such a groundswell of interest in protecting natural resources and keeping materials in use for longer. I’d like to thank Cuckfield Local for their hard work and dedication, and welcome any similar donations from like-minded community groups.”

Any community or transition groups keen to begin their own collection of plastic bottle tops should agree how the collection will take place and communicate what they’re doing as widely as possible, including through social media, if possible. Some 92% of UK councils will recycle plastics, so you can type in your post code on the RecycleNow website to find out what you can recycle locally.

Toning down the colour of plastic milk bottle tops

Plastic milk bottle tops hit the news recently, with the Guardian reporting that the colours of the lids may soon be toned down. This is because sorting coloured high density polyethylene (HDPE), the plastic polymer that’s increasingly used for milk bottles, is highly challenging. It is possible to use optical sensors that recognised the colour of individual flakes of shredded HDPE, and channel them into a separate chute. However, it’s not always possible to catch every coloured flake, and naturally, the coloured flakes are not wanted as raw materials for new milk bottles.

With supermarkets planning to use 30% recycled HDPE in milk bottles by 2015, there’s a real need for rapid recycling of the flakes in order to keep the cost of bottle manufacture down. And therefore, the net result is that supermarkets have agreed for the colour of the milk bottle tops to be toned down, which means recycling the coloured HDPE will be more straightforward. This way, shoppers can still distinguish easily between full fat, semi-skimmed and skimmed, while the recycling of the HDPE can take place rapidly and efficiently, saving costs and keeping recycled bottles flowing.

The European Commission (EC) has invested €40m (£34m) in 14 research projects dedicated to resource efficiency. Collaborations will take place among 140 businesses and research organisations in 19 European countries, with projects tackling the challenges of recycling waste materials from manufactured products and the agricultural sector. The project leaders met with EC officials in Brussels this month to agree priorities and determine the next steps.

The aims of the investment are to encourage circular economy thinking and increase resource productivity while promoting reuse and reducing waste – against a backdrop of intense competition for resources, rising energy prices and climate change. The funding forms part of the EU’s wider funding programme for environmental technologies, known as FP7, and follows a €61m investment in 18 resource efficiency research projects in October 2012.

Some 80% of the 14 companies that have won funding this year are small-to-medium sized businesses. Their research projects include the reuse of tyres in high value concrete applications (ANAGENNISI); recovery of cobalt and lanthanide from batteries (COLABATS); automated sorting and recycling of waste lamps (ILLUMINATE); plasma-based transformation of food waste into graphitic carbon and renewable hydrogen (PlasCarb); processing of aluminium scrap for manufacturing aluminium alloys (Recycal); recovery of rare earth metals from WEEE (REEcover) and the investigation of closed loop manufacturing modules (ResCoM).

The EU has invested nearly €50bn in research and innovation projects since 2007. Next year, it plans to launch a seven-year research and innovation funding programme, Horizon 2020, which will focus specifically on transforming ideas into marketable products and services.

For a full list of the 14 resource efficiency projects to be funded by the EC, click here.

New York state officials voted unanimously to ban plastic microbeads this month. The new Microbead-Free Waters Act prohibits the distribution and sale of any beauty or personal care product containing plastic pieces of less than five millimetres in the state, reports Plastics News.

The affect of plastic pollution on the world’s waterways has come under intense scrutiny lately, with scientists revealing that plastic is the most common type of litter found on the seafloor, accounting for 41% of all waste found in Europe’s deepest ocean depths. Rubbish was found at every Mediterranean site surveyed, from depths of 35 metres to 4.5 kilometres, and all the way from the continental shelf of Europe to the mid-Atlantic ridge, around 2,000km from land.

In addition, environmental activists worldwide are pushing beauty and cosmetics companies to remove microbeads from beauty products, claiming that the tiny plastic beads are damaging water supplies, marine life and the ecological balance of the planet.

The ‘Beat the Microbead’ campaign reports that marine species are unable to distinguish between food and microbeads. More than 663 different species are negatively impacted by marine debris and some 11% of reported cases are caused by the ingestion of microplastics, according to campaigners.

To make matters worse, microbeads can act like tiny sponges, absorbing other dangerous chemicals, including pesticides and flame retardants. When marine animals ingest the beads, they also consume these other poisons.

The New York State Assembly passed legislation banning the microbeads on 5th May 2014, by a 108-0 vote. New York is the first US state to begin a legislative process aimed at outlawing the beads. Other states look set to follow its example, with California already firmly en route to passing a similar law.

“We’ve taken an important step towards ridding our oceans, lakes and waterways of microbeads,” said Robert K. Sweeney, chairman of the New York State Assembly’s Environmental Conservation Committee.

Proctor & Gamble, Unilever, and Colgate-Palmolive have all made recent commitments to start phasing microbeads out of their products, as pressure continues to rid the world’s waters of tiny plastic pollutants.

Peter Essick’s new book ‘Our beautiful, fragile world’ captures the human and environmental cost of humanity’s deep effect on our planet. Essick, an award-winning photojournalist who has travelled to remote locations recording environmental destruction for 25 years, has focused on a wide range of issues in his latest collection. From the Arctic to the Amazon Rainforest to the sinking islands of the Maldives, Essick takes us on a whistle-stop tour of the major environmental issues facing our society today, including climate change, deforestation, biodiversity loss, water scarcity, e-waste (or ‘high tech trash’) and plastics pollution.

Essick leaves no stone unturned in his vivid portrayal of people and nature struggling with our changing world. Despite this, he explains that his images are intended to inspire both current and future generations and help them to protect the Earth. His message is one of optimism for change and innovation, he says. In the foreword, Jean-Michel Cousteau, president of the Ocean Futures Society, echoes this sentiment, highlighting the potential for Essick’s work to shine a light on new insights that will improve our understanding of nature and ultimately help us to reverse the damage inflicted on our ecosystems.

“Peter showed true dedication to his craft during the day-long photo shoot at MBA Polymers Austria,” says MBA’s founder Mike Biddle. “He wanted to achieve the best possible shots and lighting to communicate his story. Beyond this, I’m very impressed by his book and the breadth of his work and concerns – it’s clear that we share a passion for tackling plastic waste and protecting our oceans.”

‘Modern Trash’, a selection of Essick’s pictures from around the world.

High tech trash

So how do we balance our need for technology with the avalanche of e-waste it generates? Essick highlights the error of shutting discarded electronic devices away in the attic, items that can be ‘mined’ for plastics and metals to create new materials. He tells the story of his trip to Accra, Ghana, for National Geographic magazine to capture workers picking e-waste apart in unsafe conditions using environmentally unsound techniques. Here, he saw e-waste from the U.S and Europe being illegally recycled.

Essick describes a seedy underworld with unscrupulous middlemen and workers stripping copper wire from end-of-life electronics with their bare hands. Turning the page, you see an image of a young boy carrying a huge stack of wires on his head. In a revealing conversation, the boy tells Essick that he and his family had moved to Accra due to droughts making their land impossible to farm. This image has proved to be the most requested picture of his assignment, because, Essick believes, it puts a human face on a problem that can otherwise seem distant and intangible.

Plastic pollution

In a characteristically perceptive statement, Essick describes how he quickly realised that plastic was the least ‘desirable’ e-waste material in economic terms. He saw workers in Ghana, India, and China tearing out circuit boards and copper wires, and throwing the plastic carcass of a computer into a dump or even a riverbed.

He highlights the ongoing health concerns surrounding some of the chemicals used in plastics manufacturing, and of course the incredible amount of energy it takes to make virgin plastic from crude oil. He whisks us away to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, evoking the exceptionally high concentration of discarded plastics and chemical sludge that are slowly choking our marine life.

The plastic dilemma

Essick is a realist – he explains that despite the untold environmental damage caused by plastic pollution, plastics remain popular due to their cheap price, light weight and durability – the same characteristic that stops them from degrading in landfill or the ocean for hundreds of years. And he touches on the complexities of the sorting process and the fact that a single mobile phone can comprise a dozen different types of plastics that all need to be separated in order to be reused.

A way forward

It’s not all doom and gloom, though. In line with his vision of inspiring rather than demoralising, Essick takes us straight from children handling e-waste in the shantytowns of Ghana to MBA’s world-leading plastics recycling facility in Austria. The contrast couldn’t be more acute. Essick explains the value of our work in recycling plastics from end-of-life electronic goods using advanced technology, producing high quality recycled plastics for use in manufacturing. (For more on our Austrian facility, click here). Finally, he leaves plastics and moves to the next environmental conundrum: fertilizer use…

Let us know what you think of Essick’s work. Does it inspire you to renew your connection with the natural world? Contact us via our website or tweet us @MBAPolymersUK.

» View Modern Waste, images from ‘Our beautiful, fragile world’

Our CEO, Nigel Hunton, visited the University of Colorado this month to learn more about the team’s vision to create a unique learning environment designed to inspire collaborative, interdisciplinary research around sustainability. He met University Chancellor Phil Di Stefani and Gifford Miller, Professor of Geological sciences.

Nigel was invited to explore the site of the university’s planned Sustainability, Energy and Environment Complex (SEEC), where three research institutes, along with federal partners and academic departments will use cutting edge laboratory equipment and state-of-the-art techniques to build momentum on pressing circular economy and sustainability issues. The university aims to have the new complex ready for action in 2015.

University of Colorado Professor Tom Cech describes the proposed collaboration as ‘fruitful collisions of people, research, and ideas’, while his fellow Professor James White foresees the creation of ‘academic neighbourhoods’ under one roof, allowing for maximum mingling and interdisciplinary interactions. The groups housed at the SEEC campus are currently spread across 17 buildings, he explains.

“Our vision for SEEC is to help guide the world towards sustainability in an elegant and innovative fashion,” White says.

Colorado presentation

The 145,000 sq ft LEED-certified laboratory building will be constructed using an open lab design concept to encourage idea exchange and collaboration. Meanwhile, a 289,000 sq ft office building will be retrofitted and equipped as offices for SEEC tenants.

The university still needs to raise $15 million for the construction of the complex. White is launching a major fundraising campaign to help meet these costs. Please click here if you’re interested in donating to the building fund.

The conveniences of our modern world produce all different types of waste. Some waste is in invisible forms such as carbon dioxide or radiation, and other wastes are very noticeable as bright green algae or pink dyes. Electronic waste is a particular residue of our modern world and can be recycled given the proper care and attention.

Nuclear waste

At this USA government site in Idaho, high-level nuclear waste is in dry storage. It was a by-product in the production of nuclear weapons during the era of the Cold War, and will remain radioactive for millions of years. » view large

Yellow river

A dye used as a preservative in the production of tofu at the plant in the background causes the waters of the Yellow River to turn pink. More than 600 million Chinese drink water contaminated with waste and 20 million people drink well water contaminated with high levels of radiation. » view large

Lake Erie

Runoff of nitrogen-rich fertilizer from farmland causes a late summer algae bloom in Lake Erie, Ohio. Excess nitrogen in the water from fertilizer and manure runoff provides the nutrients for the algae to grow. It is the chlorophyll that gives the green algae its color. Some algae blooms also contain a neurotoxin called beta-Methylamino-L-alanine, or BMAA, which can pass the blood-brain barrier and has been implicated as a possible link to neurodegenerative diseases in humans such as Alzheimer’s Disease and Lou Gehrig Disease (ALS). » view large

Fertilizer plant

At the Notore Fertilizer Plant in Port Harcourt, Nigeria, carbon dioxide is a waste product in the production of nitrogen fertilizer and is released in the flare to the atmosphere causing a greenhouse gas. » view large

Hardrock mining

In the late 19th century, Leadville, Colorado was booming. For almost 100 years, millions of ounces of gold and silver were recovered from mines surrounding the city. But eventually the ore ran out, and the soil and surface water in the mining district were heavily contaminated with lead, zinc and other heavy metals. Abandoned mining often have an outflow called acid mining drainage. Many years and millions of dollars have gone into mining superfund cleanups, and some areas polluted by hard rock mining will require water treatment in perpetuity. » view large

Oil sands tailings pond

A tailings pond is filled with the waste from the recovery of bitumen in the oil sands near Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada. There is a radar system to detect when birds are in the area. Then the peregrine falcon effigy pictured is activated with wings that move and predator sounds and a strobe light to scare away other migratory birds from landing on the toxic tailings pond. » view large

Parking lot runoff

During a thunderstorm in a parking lot in Baltimore, Maryland, Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons or PAHs runoff into the Chesapeake Bay when it rains. PAHs come out of the tailpipes of vehicles and deposit on the pavement. They are a product of incomplete combustion of petroleum products. » view large

Boy with computer wires

A young boy in Accra, Ghana. carries computer wires to be burned to for their copper. The computers are shipped here from Europe and the USA and some are reused but majority are dumped in Ghana. Poor workers often from the northern poorer region of Ghana do the work and sell the copper to buyers who send the metal to China or India. » view large

MBA Polymers in Austria

At MBA Polymers in Kematen, Austria, plastics from electronics are recycled in a sophisticated manner for reuse in injection and intrusion molding. In the laboratory each load is sampled and amount of plastic, wood, metals, etc. is determined. Plastics must be recycled if possible in the EU and incinerated if it is not possible to recycle. » view large

Pictures from ‘Our beautiful, fragile world’, © Peter Essick

MBA Polymers joined forces with Guangzhou Iron & Steel Enterprises Group (GISE) in 2004 to create a processing plant in Guangzhou, China. The joint venture, known as MBAPC, processes 32,000 tonnes of e-waste annually, employs 150 people and produces high quality recycled plastic for high end manufacturers. It’s located within a short distance of many of the world’s largest consumer electronics and IT hardware companies.

Established in 1958 by the Guangzhou National Asset Commission, GISE was originally a steel factory. When the GISE Group formed in 2000, it specialised in the production of ferrous and non-ferrous metals, and industrial gas. At its peak in 2008, the company had an annual capacity of 5.5m tonnes of steel. Its annual revenue is now 30bn RMB (£3bn) and it employs 5,000 people.

Jack Chen of GISE met MBA founder Mike Biddle in 2003 through the mayor of Guangzhou city and quickly understood the commercial potential of producing high quality recycled materials from post-consumer waste.

“Creating a joint venture with MBA Polymers made good business sense,” says Chen, Assistant to the General Manager at MBAPC. “With the volume of electronic waste in China set to grow as the population becomes more affluent, we identified a real opportunity to transform this waste into valuable raw materials, drawing on MBA’s world-leading recycling expertise. Chinese policy-makers had also started pushing for more plastic to be recycled from e-waste, so we anticipated an increasing volume of waste material to process.”

“Our joint venture with GISE is MBA’s first recycling venture in China,” says Nigel Hunton, CEO, MBA Polymers. “It was important to us to find the right partner to launch a Chinese recycling operation, and our collaboration with GISE continues to develop. We’re looking forward to seeing the business develop with their strong support over the next ten years as they raise awareness of our role in leading credible plastics recycling in China.”

In 2013, China’s ‘Operation Green Fence’, a ten-month clampdown on sub-standard recyclables crossing its borders, put many small Chinese plastics recyclers out of business, according to Chen. While forthcoming policies are still unknown, it’s clear that Beijing will keep up the pressure on both the quality of recyclables entering the country and on its domestic recycling industry. Currently, its plastic recycling industry has a poor reputation for using highly polluting recycling processes, employing child labour and violating health and safety regulations.

“Legitimate, high tech, environmental friendly recycling companies will therefore be welcomed by Chinese government,” comments Chen.

Looking ahead, MBAPC will face competition both domestically and internationally, as more Chinese recyclers look to establish plastics processing plants and Europe slowly exports less waste in favour of growing its own recycling industry. The challenge of illegal recyclers also remains, while China evaluates how to regulate its recycling industry effectively.


“We’re delighted to celebrate our ten-year collaboration with MBA and the results we’ve achieved to date,” says Chen. “I have a positive outlook and big ambitions for the future of our business, despite a competitive marketplace. “We’ll continue to grow by improving our performance and building our relationships with high end customers. In fact, we expect to process 39,752 tonnes of waste material in 2014, a 24% increase year-on-year.”

GISE celebrated its tenth anniversary of working with MBA with a company dinner and sports day, which saw MBAPC employees being rewarded for their hard work and engaging in fun, team-building activities, including tug-of-war. Every employee and key customers received a souvenir plate depicting two horses striding forward, a symbol of the continual progress made by MBA and GISE. The General Manager of MBAPC, RenWu Cai, announced that looking forward, MBAPC would be developing compound plastic products, in addition to recycled plastic.

» See more pictures from the celebration

In the US, most used plastics are not currently collected for recycling, reports Popular Science. Of the 10% of plastic waste that is recycled, easily sortable items such as bottles tend to be recycled within the country, while almost everything else is exported, typically to developing countries such as China, where recycling processes can be harmful to the environment and human health. Some 30% of US e-waste is plastic, and plastic scrap became the top US export to China by value ($11.3bn) in 2011.

Indeed, Biddle would be thrilled to see an MBA Polymers plant operating in the US, but the economics of the situation just don’t stack up. It simply wouldn’t be possible to guarantee a steady stream of plastic waste to process.

Here’s a typical journey for US plastic waste:


To read the whole Popular Science article, please click here.

MBA Polymers is committed to continuously look for new ways to optimize our plants, support our customers, improve our processes, develop world-class products and reduce costs.

In his new role as Global Sourcing Manager, Paul will lead his team to improve focus on the sourcing opportunities, by-product value creation and deliver focus to initiating sales growth prospects.

Paul joined MBA Polymers in 2013 from 2k manufacturing and is an experienced manager with a degree in Business Management from Sheffield University and broad business skills gained in various roles at 2k.