Hundreds of thousands of volunteers stepped up to help clear the world’s coastlines of plastic waste as part of the Ocean Conservancy’s recent International Coastal Clean-up this autumn. The annual clean-up event is the world’s largest single day volunteer effort to remove rubbish from local waterways, beaches, lakes and rivers.

This year, volunteers used an Ocean Conservancy app to document every piece of rubbish collected, logging it in the Ocean Trash Index, the world’s largest marine debris database. Some 11.5m volunteers have logged 225m items removed from beaches and waterways over the past 30 years.

Plastic ocean waste is harmful to marine environments and wildlife, and has already harmed nearly 700 species of wildlife. Every year, an estimated 8m tonnes of plastic waste flows into the ocean, the majority of it discarded by people on land. Without strong global action, the volume of plastic in the world’s oceans could soon equal the volume of fish, prompting significant environmental, economic and health issues.

“Marine debris is a serious concern for the health of our oceans,” says Allison Schutes, who manages Ocean Conservancy’s ‘Trash-Free Seas’ programme. “Fortunately, this is a problem that we can solve,” she adds, highlighting that through the clean-up event, the Ocean Conservancy gains a glimpse of the many people across the world working towards cleaner oceans.

“Recycling more plastic is vital to stemming the flow of plastic waste into the world’s oceans,” says Richard McCombs, MBA’s CEO. “By transforming post-consumer plastics into secondary raw materials, we are giving plastic waste a new lease of life and preventing it from becoming marine debris.”

The Swedish government is set to introduce tax breaks for repairs to everything from bicycles to washing machines, reports the Guardian. The idea is that it will no longer make sense for people to discard old or broken items and replace them with new ones. If the proposals are approved by parliament in December 2016, they will become law from 1st January 2017.

In particular, the proposals attempt to address consumers’ ‘throwaway’ mentality by cutting VAT on repairs to bicycles, clothes and shoes from 25% to 12%. People would also be able to claim back half of the labour cost (from income tax) on repairs to appliances such as fridges, ovens, dishwashers and washing machines.

“We believe that this could substantially lower the cost and so make it more rational economic behaviour to repair goods,” commented Per Bolund, Sweden’s minister for financial markets and consumer affairs and one of six Green party cabinet members.

Bolund estimates that the VAT cut will reduce the cost of a repair worth 400 SEK (£36) by about 50 SEK, enough to stimulate the country’s repair industry. According to the Guardian, he hopes the tax break on appliances will spur the creation of a new home repairs service industry, providing much-needed jobs for new immigrants who lack formal education.

These incentives are part of the Swedish government’s efforts to expand its focus from reducing domestic carbon emissions to addressing the carbon footprint of products imported into the country for consumption by Swedish people.

Sweden has cut its annual carbon emissions by 23% since 1990, and generates more than half of its electricity from renewable sources. However, emissions linked to consumption have risen. Bolund said the policy reflects international trends such as the ‘maker movement’ and the sharing economy, both of which have strong followings there.

“The Swedish government’s proposal to introduce tax breaks for repairs is highly commendable,” says MBA’s CEO, Richard McCombs. “Similar initiatives could be replicated across Europe including incentives for companies to source more recycled materials for new products.”

1. Could you describe your role and responsibilities at MBA Polymers?

Since coming to MBA Polymers over 18 years ago, my main focus has been on developing high quality products suitable for a broad range of customers. This has included developing novel separation processes as well as formulations with suitable additives. My role has more recently expanded to providing technical and marketing support to our manufacturing plants. I give guidance on operating separation and compounding equipment, and ensuring reliability of product testing, as well as supporting technical sales, and presenting at conferences. Over the past decade, I have also been responsible for managing MBA Polymers’ intellectual property, including our patent portfolio and protection of trade secrets.

2. How does MBA work with its customers to tailor the characteristics of their products?

The first step is to make sure the customer is seeking one of the plastics we produce. We then determine the customer’s requirements in terms of price, colour, mechanical properties, thermal properties, flammability etc. We compare their requirements with our base material’s properties, and use our knowledge of additives and processes to assess the technical and economic feasibility of developing a suitable product. If the development is feasible, we produce a ‘developmental’ grade (or grades) for the customer to test. In some cases, this means collaborating with customers over several months to provide a grade that meets all their requirements.

3. Could you share an example?

One customer required a polypropylene product that was dark grey in colour, had a high melt flow rate and had to pass various mechanical tests including drop tests and creep resistance. We drew on our extensive experience of fine-tuning our products’ characteristics to control the melt flow rate and use of additives, producing the right colour and improving the creep resistance.

4. What plastics recycling challenges do you face and how are you working to overcome them?

One of the biggest product quality challenges is limiting the volume of non-melting contaminants in the final product. We can eliminate the vast majority, but there are sometimes tiny specks that end up in the products. We take steps to ensure that our separation equipment is in order, and work with engineers and operators at each of our facilities to make sure they are operating the equipment correctly.

5. What are your ambitions for the business?

With customers increasingly keen to order more recycled plastics, in line with their circular economy or sustainability targets, there is a huge opportunity for expanding the business. In order to meet customer demands, we will continue developing new sources of raw material for recycling. We will improve our product quality, expand the range of plastics we recover (as we have already done with PC/ABS), and strengthen our ability to provide high level technical support to our customers.

Plastic from end-of-life vehicles (ELV) is a largely untapped resource. At the MBA Polymers’ site in Worksop the plant has the capability to process in excess of 50,000mT tonnes of ELV plastic per year, helping to create valuable secondary raw materials for the automotive and consumer goods industries.

In November 2016, MBA’s General Manager, Paul Mayhew, addressed a packed audience of manufacturers and plastics recovery and recycling experts, highlighting the opportunities of recycling more ELV plastics.

Paul began by profiling EMR’s global recycling business, explaining that the company’s work spans 165 sites worldwide and it has invested some $300m in car recycling in the UK and US over the past four years.

He highlighted the scale of the auto recycling challenge, underlining that some 7.8m cars reach end of life annually in Europe. Meanwhile, as the world’s middle classes continue to expand, global car ownership is set to increase from 1bn cars produced in 2010 to some 2.5bn in 2050.

There are clearly millions of tonnes of ELV plastic available. So how do we go about capturing and recycling it? And importantly, how can we create a greater demand for recycled plastics within the automotive industry and beyond?

Introducing MBA Polymers

Paul explained that EMR separates and recycles diverse ASR materials, including metals (ferrous and non-ferrous), recycled plastic (through its joint venture with MBA Polymers) and aggregates. It also creates electricity through a gasification process at its Oldbury plant.

Focusing on the MBA story in particular, Paul charted the company’s history from its founder Mike Biddle’s garage to the opening of plastics processing plants in China, Austria and the UK. Globally, MBA Polymers now processes some 105,000 tonnes of ASR and post-consumer electronic waste annually.

Navigating the technical challenges of recycling ELV plastics

Highlighting the challenges of recycling ELV plastics, Paul pointed to the wide variety of plastic types, customers’ and regulators’ high purity requirements, customers’ high performance requirements. Additionally, he explained that there are residual automotive fluids in plastics, as well as paints, coatings and barrier layers. In some plastics, MBA also finds ‘legacy’ substances of concern (such as heavy metals).

Plastic constitutes some 21% of the total, with the remainder comprising foam and textiles (31%), fine materials (16%), rubber (13%) metal and wires (11%), wood (7%) and other materials (2%).

Recycling ELV plastics: how it works

Firstly, it’s important to separate out the plastic from the rest of the automotive shredder residue (ASR). Among the plastics, there are multiple types. It’s therefore vital to be able to separate and recycle each polymer effectively.

Plastics found in automotive shredder residue

  • Polypropylene (PP)
  • High density polyethylene (HDPE)
  • Acrylonitrile-butadiene-styrene (ABS)
  • High impact polystyrene (HIPS) – mostly from other shredded products such as large appliances
  • Polyamides (PA6, PA66, PA12)
  • Polycarbonate (PC)
  • Blends of PC with ABS (PC/ABS)

Next up, Paul covered how MBA separates, processes, extrudes and pelletises its five plastic polymers – PP, HDPE, ABS, HIPS and filled PP plastic – highlighting the innovative technology used at each stage. Importantly, all MBA’s products are RoHS and REACH-compliant, and any residual materials are recovered, sold or incinerated. Nothing goes to landfill.

MBA’s experienced quality control team conducts rigorous laboratory checks of finished products, following processes certified to ISO standards. Paul explained that the company works in partnership with its customers to ensure they achieve the required performance, quality and consistency.

Challenges and opportunities for ELV recycling

Increasingly, Paul told the audience, MBA and EMR are working with carmakers to identify opportunities for recycled plastic to be used in new vehicles. In order for the automotive industry to take full advantage of these opportunities, there are some challenges to address, he added.

Challenges

  • The automotive sector is tending to adopt more composite materials (e.g. GF, carbon fibre), for light-weighting purposes, however, these can be hard to recycle using existing technologies.
  • Carmakers need greater commercial or regulatory incentives to specify recycled plastics for new products.
  • While more vehicle manufacturers are using recycled plastic, they tend to do so within the context of closing the loop on automotive waste, rather than due to the performance characteristics of the recycled material.

Regulators often change the legal limits for legacy additives that can be found in recycled plastics, which has the effect of lowering the volumes of plastic that can be recycled.

Opportunities

  • There’s an opportunity for the plastics recycling industry to collaborate to push for greater incentives for carmakers to use recycled materials, thereby boosting demand for recycled plastics. For example, rules on sustainable procurement could prioritise more recycled content, while for companies could be rewarded for using more recycled plastic through tax breaks.
  • Manufacturers could work with recyclers as part of their sustainability and circular economy efforts to understand the recyclability of diverse materials at the design stage.
  • More metal recyclers are investing in post-shredder treatment in order to achieve the EU’s 95% recycling target for ELVs, which will increase the availability of ELV plastics.

Replacing plastics in consumer goods and packaging with a mix of alternative materials would increase environmental costs almost fourfold from $139bn to $533bn annually, finds a new study by environmental consultancy Trucost.

Using natural capital accounting, Trucost has built on previous plastics reports to conduct an environmental ‘cost comparison’. It looked at the relative costs of using materials such as paper, tin, aluminium and glass compared to plastic (to perform the same function). It also explored whether taking a more sustainable approach to using plastics in consumer goods and packaging might cost the Earth less in the long term.

The rise of plastic

Plastic is an affordable, versatile material with many uses across food packaging, drinking water distribution and medical devices. As demand for plastic has grown, its production has increased from 15m tonnes in 1964 to 311m tonnes in 2014. However, with many plastic products and packaging becoming waste, rather than being reused or transformed into secondary raw materials, plastic pollution has also escalated dramatically. In 2014, Trucost and the Plastic Disclosure Project estimated the cost of plastic pollution to marine ecosystems at $13bn, with the consumer goods sector creating $75bn of environmental impacts through its use of plastic.

Taking a smarter approach to plastics

The report concludes that finding smarter ways to manage the manufacture, transport and use of plastic is more environmentally sustainable than replacing plastic with alternative materials. Using plastics in consumer goods costs the environment 3.8 times less than alternative materials would do, it says. This is because opting for plastic, companies can use a quarter of the volume of material they would need if they were to use alternative materials for the same purpose.

“Our findings run contrary to commonly held perceptions that the environmental impacts of plastic can be best addressed by switching to alternative materials,” says Dr. Richard Mattison, CEO of Trucost. “In fact, our research shows that designing, managing and using plastics more efficiently, in a way that respects circular economy principles, is by far the most environmentally sustainable course of action.”

Importantly, moving to a circular economy could significantly reduce the environmental costs of plastics. In particular, this could be achieved by increasing the recycling of post-consumer plastics to 55% and lowering landfill (to a maximum of 10%). If these targets were to be implemented across Europe and North America, the environmental cost of plastics could be reduced by more than $7.9bn in net terms. Meanwhile, it takes 80% less energy to produce recycled plastic than it does to produce virgin plastic.

“Companies in multiple sectors are lowering their environmental footprints by opting for recycled plastics that offer the same performance characteristics as their virgin plastic equivalents,” says Richard McCombs, CEO of MBA Polymers. “Using advanced technology to recycle plastic also helps to stem the flow of plastic waste to landfills, incinerators and oceans.”

Indeed, capturing plastic waste before it reaches the ocean could cut environment costs to the world’s marine life by over $2.1bn, the report estimates. This would mean improving waste collection and management, particularly in Asia (which it suggests could be responsible for more than 70% of plastic consumer goods waste entering the ocean), and increasingly in Africa. Improving waste collection in Asia could cut the volume of plastic waste entering the oceans annually by more than 45%.

Trucost also identified significant opportunities for plastic to be manufactured and transported more efficiently. The environmental cost of producing plastic for the consumer goods sector stood at more than $60bn in 2015, with the transport of these materials adding a further $53bn. The global plastics industry could deliver $33bn of environmental cost savings, the report suggests, by doubling its use of renewable electricity, using more efficient packaging designs and increasing the fuel efficiency of plastic transportation by 20%.

Leading plastics recyclers, including MBA Polymers, joined with major waste management associations in November to announce a shared ‘wish list’ of steps required from EU policy-makers to catalyse greater recycling of waste cars and electronics.

“We’ll see an increasing level of discussion and debate about the shape of the EU’s Circular Economy Package over the next two years,” says Richard McCombs, MBA’s CEO. We’re making a plea to leaders, innovators and key influencers involved in the debate by sharing some clear recommendations that could help to drive change and promote the circular economy.”

The current state of play

The production of new vehicles is steadily rising. There are currently an estimated 275m vehicles registered in the EU, representing an impressive ‘urban mine’ of materials. Plastic (or elastomer material) – made primarily from non-renewable oil-based resources – comprises some 20 to 25% of the average vehicle. Meanwhile, of the 9.5m tonnes of waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) generated in Europe each year (including 1.2m plastics), only five to six tonnes are recycled. The technology exists to recycle 50% of the plastics derived from waste electronics, while the rest could be used for energy recovery.

Current ELV and WEEE targets in Europe:

  • ELV: 95% of an ELV should be recovered with 85% of materials recovered
  • WEEE: 80% of consumer electronics should be recovered (with 70% of materials recovered) and 85% large domestic appliances should be recovered (with 80% of materials recovered). These rates change over time.

One of the key barriers to up-scaling the volumes of plastic currently recycled is that vehicle and electronics manufactures in Europe currently hold the responsibility for capturing post-consumer waste and attempting to recycle or recover their products. In the main, manufacturers are responding to this by introducing take-back systems. However, this does not go far enough to catalyse a circular economy model whereby products would be designed for reuse, recovery or recycling, and waste materials would be systematically re-captured and channelled into new products.

What’s needed to make the circular economy a reality is for everyone involved in the product development and manufacturing process – product designers, materials purchasers, marketing managers and production engineers – to consider end-of-life product responsibility right from the outset. There is currently no clear link between the ‘take-back’, collection and recycling of waste materials and the design, procurement and sales of new products.

In particular, it’s vital for companies to consider the chemical and physical make-up of their products at the design stage – how could each material be recovered, reused or recycled? In the plastics recycling industry, one of the challenges we face in recycling post-consumer plastics is that there are strict rules – with ever-changing thresholds – governing which substances can be safely recycled. If companies were to factor this in at the outset, there would be more ‘allowable’ material to recycle.

The opportunity

This huge mountain of durable goods, destined to enter future waste streams, represents a valuable ‘urban mine’ of materials that could be transformed safely into raw materials for new products. This requires an efficient collection and recycling infrastructure. While innovators, such as MBA Polymers, have invested in developing the technology to recycle these end-of-life products, there is now a great opportunity to capitalise on the knowledge and experience of ‘first-movers’ like ourselves, and catalyse a sector-wide transition to a circular model.

Plastics recycling industry European ‘wish list’

Procuring and transporting complex mixes of raw materials across borders for the production of secondary raw materials by compliant recyclers within the EU should become more straightforward, more rapid and less costly.

Additionally, it is important to note that there is a complex web of legislation (REACH, ROHS for products, POP, WSR, WFD for waste) to navigate, which can be a barrier to investment and/or scaling up. While the industry can reduce the presence of harmful substances in secondary raw materials as much as possible, it cannot eliminate all substances of concern entirely. Regulators must recognise this when setting new thresholds for raw materials, particularly as there are still at least 15 years of in-use cars still to recycle.

Here are our industry’s key recommendations for change:

  • A fast-track notification procedure should be developed to allow compliant recyclers to get better access to complex input materials from other countries within the EU.
  • The Circular Economy Package should encourage communication between recyclers and producers by rewarding companies that use traceable post-consumer recycled (PCR) content in their products.
  • The EU should set realistic thresholds for substances of concern and invite the recycling industry to be part of the discussion, ahead of any upcoming changes. For example, regulators could exempt PCR materials from certain thresholds within a defined timeframe, or allow plastics containing banned additives to be used in new long-life products.

For the full ‘wish list’, please click here.

I am pleased to offer our MBA Polymers newsletter for Q3 2016. In this last quarter, we continue to see unsettling events likely to affect MBA Polymers, the plastics recycling industry and the global economy. The election of Donald Trump and his publically stated position against climate change will create uncertainty for a green economy for at least the next four years.

However, MBA Polymers continues to remain optimistic that the tipping point for the plastics recycling industry is close at hand. Our customers are continuing to embrace the circular economy and recognise that recycling is one of its key hallmarks. Additionally, the European Union (EU) is starting to adopt a more positive legislative approach to recycling. MBA is one of a number leading waste and recycling organisations to have issued a joint plastics recycling industry ‘wish list’ of vital steps to help accelerate the transition to a circular economy. I recently presented this statement to product designers at the Plasticity Conference in London.

MBA Polymers has continuously supported and benefited from our R&D efforts under our Director of R&D, Brian Riise. He has been with the company for over 18 years and believes that MBA has a major role to play in meeting manufacturers’ growing demands for recycled material. Brian is a frequently asked to speak at plastics conferences. You can find all the events at which MBA is speaking here.

Elsewhere in this edition, we also explain why finding smarter ways to manage plastics beats switching to alternative materials. We also cover the latest Ocean Conservancy coastal clean-up and explore why Sweden is giving tax breaks for repairs.

Finally, don’t miss our founder, Mike Biddle, speaking at the Electronics Recycling Congress in Salzburg, Austria, in January 2017.

Thank you for your support and interest in plastics recycling and the circular economy, and please don’t hesitate to approach me with any questions.

Respectfully yours,

Richard McCombs, CEO

rmccombs@mbapolymers.com

Purpose

This document summarises the shared opinion of some key players in the plastics materials recycling sector from complex wastes of durable products such as End-of-Life Vehicles (ELV’s) and Waste of Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) concerning the market drivers for change needed to promote a transition towards a ‘true’ circular materials economy in the industry.

In the next 2 years we will see an increasing level of discussion and debate about the shape of the EU’s Circular Economy Package. This document should be seen as a plea to leaders, innovators and key influencers involved in that debate by setting out a simple set of measures that will help to drive change in a positive direction to promote the Circular Economy.

Key Facts

Automotive – There are an estimated approximately 275 Mio motor vehicles registered for use on the road network of the EU member states and this represents an impressive urban mine of materials. New vehicle production continues to grow steadily with quickly changing technologies. The average mass of each new motor vehicle is approximately 1.3 tonnes, of which currently about 20-25% consists of plastics or elastomer material which is made primarily from non-renewable oil- based resources. The annual plastics consumption for the car industry in Europe is close to 4 Mio tonnes per annum. The currently reported quantity of End-of-Life Vehicles (ELVs) consists of 6.3 Mio ELVs per year and this represents a quantity of ELV plastics of some 1.2 Mio tonnes. It is estimated that the potential for use of Post-Consumer Recycled (PCR) plastics used in new-build cars can be as high as 5% of vehicle mass, which would have a huge environmental benefit.

Vehicle parc development in Europe 2013

Electrical & Electronics – The quantity of Waste from Electric and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) is some 9.5 Mio tonnes per annum, of which quantity approximately 5-6 Mio tonnes are being recycled in Europe. Some 1.2 Mio tonnes of this material are plastics materials. Technology exists to recycle over 50 % of this material into Post-Consumer Recycled (PCR plastics) and the remaining Graph of the composition of WEEE shredder residues quantity which cannot be recycled as material can be used for energy recovery. A recent Life-Cycle Analysis comparing the production of virgin plastics with the production of PCR plastics illustrates the benefits of using PCR plastics.

The total demand for plastics for the production of Electric and Electronic Equipment (EEE) is 2.5 Mio Tonnes per annum.

The practical application of PCR plastics for the production of new Electric and Electronic Equipment has been proven in a significant number of cases.

Current Materials Recycling Model

The producers of automobiles and electronics across Europe have been given the responsibility for the end-of-life capture, collection and recycling or recovery of the products that they put on the market.

Under this Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) legislation the focus is placed upon ‘polluter pays’ by making branded manufacturers and importers share the financial burden of the cost of collection and recycling. There are several variations on the way this is implemented across Member states, but most link the brand’s current market share in tonnage terms to the cost of collection, treatment and recovery measured at the point of waste collection, which responsibility is outsourced to take- back or similar systems in many of the cases.

Current legislative measures have already placed high targets on the percentage of end-of-life products that must be recycled or recovered.

The European ELV directive prescribes a total recovery rate of 95% of which 85% as (material) recycling rate and the European WEEE directive as varying recovery and recycling targets depending on the category of WEEE and these targets are growing over time. Consumer Electronics and IT currently have a recovery rate target of 80% with a (material) recycling rate of to 70% and Large Domestic Appliances 85% recovery and 80% (material) recycling rate.

This ‘arms-length’ approach to ‘responsibility for end-of-life’ has failed to create a circular flow of recycled materials back into new products. Most manufacturers have transferred their responsibilities for collection and treatment to take back schemes. The collection and treatment is considered a cost factor and therefore continious price pressure on these services is eminent. Therewith the compliance with the Directives has become an annual accounting exercise. Graph of the missing link in the circular economy There is virtually no involvement by product designers, materials purchasers, marketing managers, production engineers in the process of satisfying end-of-life product responsibility. The disconnect between the return flow of materials – take-back, collection and recycling – and the design, procurement and sales of new durable products can be seen as the “missing link” in the Circular Economy.

The long lifetime of products in the vehicle and electrical goods markets (i.e. 2 years to 20 years) also means that there is a long delay between making a product and that item reaching its end-of-life stage, where the materials can be captured, separated and recovered for recycling or re-use. This increases the level of ‘disconnect’ between those people involved in design and development of new products and the growing industry involved in recycling of materials from old products (unlike packaging materials, where the working lifetime is measured in days or weeks and forward thinking businesses can get very rapid benefits by tapping into the readily available flow of plastics materials being recycled from household waste collections).

Manufacturing industries are to a great extent still operating a linear model for sourcing and use of raw materials to create a this growing volume of durable products.

This huge mountain of durable goods – destined to enter the waste stream at some stage in the future – represents a predictable, know composition urban mine of material that could and should enter into an efficient collection and recycling infrastructure that is laid out to deliver these materials back into manufacturers as a sustainable and stable flow of Post-Consumer Recycled secondary raw materials.

The plastics recycling industry for these complex raw materials is capable of producing products that comply with product legislation. However, the ever changing thresholds for an ever increasing amount of substances under REACH and POPS legislation form a considerable burden for this new industry with a risk that the investment levels will come to a halt. Legacy issues require a holistic approach starting at product design stage. Whilst the industry is capable of reducing the legacy of substances to the greatest possible extent, the recycling industry will not be able to eliminate all substances of concern completely. This must be recognized whilst setting new thresholds for raw materials, whereby it is important that there is an alignment of these thresholds for wastes and for products. For some substances reasonable exemptions for recycling might be required.

Continuously changing threshold values for ever more substances in the EU legislation impacts the development of a recycling industry infrastructure negatively and hence has a negative impact on the development of a recycling society and circular economy that the EU Commission is seeking. Today many of the valuable raw materials embedded in these durable goods are still exported out of Europe, often illegally. The European Waste Shipment Regulation’s rules on notifications of “non- listed wastes” – many of the mixed materials from these durable goods are considered to be notifiable wastes – sets rules and procedures to the transboundary shipments of these raw materials that are often prohibitively complex, long and expensive. These rules and procedures for these raw materials are the same as what is required for most hazardous wastes. Much of this potential input for compliant European recyclers therefore leaves the European Union, as the enforcement of these rules for the export out of the EU is virtually non-existent.

While many innovative, entrepreneurial, technology leaders have taken the early-stage steps to invest in the new processing industry to recycle these durable end-of-life products, there is now a great opportunity to capitalize on the learnings and experience of those ‘first-movers’ and to help catalyse a transition across the sector to a much more circular material flow economic model.

Creating drivers for change

Speaking from the combined experience of over 25 years of actually operating within the EU and global recycling industry for these products, key players in the sector have shared the following points as a ‘wish list’ of principles that must be included in any new set of measures and legislative instruments put in place to help deliver a circular economy in the sector.

The Plastics Recycling Industry Wish-List

Procedures for the procurement and transboundary shipment of complex mixes of raw materials for the production of secondary raw materials by compliant recyclers within the EU should be made easier, quicker and cheaper. Pre-consented and verified facilities within the EU have a special status, which should be recognized by the competent authorities in country of despatch. A FAST-TRACK NOTIFICATION procedure should be developed to allow these compliant recyclers to get better access to these complex input materials from other countries within the EU.

The primary focus of any new measures should AIM AT PULLING THE DEMAND FOR Post- Consumer Recycled content in order to convert the linear supply chain to a circular material flow model. The industry already has high targets in place for the collection of end-of-life products and with high recovery and material recycling targets set in those regulations. The missing link in the Circular Economy is the communication between the recycling companies and the producers of durable products – the Circular Economy Package should encourage this by rewarding the incorporation and use of traceable Post-Consumer Recycled (PCR) content back into new products. This could take the form of:

  • Public Green Procurement rules to enforce a change towards products that contain well-defined quantities of PCR content. This to cover durable product purchases, electrical and electronic goods, vehicles and construction materials in addition to the ‘easy-wins’ in short life consumables such as printing paper, packaging (Example – EPEAT in USA federal law).
  • Private sector – drive Member states to implement positive, reward-based drivers to encourage product manufacturers to specify and use recycled materials (especially plastics). Measured and proven levels of PCR use should be encouraged by positive benefits accruing to those companies who make the changes (e.g. increased R&D and/or capital investment tax allowances linked to higher levels of traceable PCR content in new products).

 

Enabling this to happen in Europe

One key area that needs to be recognized during the envisaged ‘transition period’ from a linear manufacturing economy to one that embodies CIRCULARITY, is a pragmatic recognition that the huge urban mine of materials that is already in place will contain some materials and additives that are no longer seen as desirable in modern materials (i.e. at least 15 years of in-use cars or some electronic products to be processed when reaching end-of-life).

The legal situation that applies to the recycling industry with both waste and product legislations that apply (REACH, ROHS for products, POP, WSR, WFD for waste) is extremely complex. For example, the Waste Framework Directive does not allow any mixing of materials with the purpose to reduce the levels of these substances of concern.

Technology is available to produce secondary raw materials made from durable goods that meet current product legislations. However legal initiatives and thresholds for particular substances change continuously. There are pressures to define new thresholds for certain substances – such as some brominated flame retardants – to levels beyond those that can be measured reliably or to levels that can be reached technologically for secondary raw materials.

The recycling industry therefore calls for realistic THRESHOLDS for substances of concern and for a continuous exchange of views between the legislator and the recycling industry if changes are planned. In some cases, a solution can be found by creating exemptions for certain thresholds for PCR materials for well-defined periods of time. In other cases, the most desirable route forward is to re-incorporate the captured plastics containing such additives back into new long-life products (e.g. stabilizers in PVC window frames).

Therefore, a key addendum point in the industry wish-list is:

  • Regulators across member states to take a pragmatic and balanced approach to the allowable levels of residual trace legacy additives remaining inside recycled plastics during the extended period of transition to a circular material flow. (maybe next 10 – 20 years)
  • Set levels of allowable trace chemical additives that are realistic in terms of the risk posed and sensible in terms of actually being detected by laboratory instruments in general use.

 

The following waste treatment associations support this wish list:

Emmanuel Katrakis – EuRIC
Mail: ekatrakis@euric-aisbl.eu
Euric logo
Norbert Zonneveld – EERA
Mail: nz@eera-recyclers.com
Eera logo
Francisco Morcillo – British Plastics Federation
Mail: fmorcillo@bpf.co.uk
British plastics federation logo

 

Plastic Recycling Companies processing complex plastic mixes from ELV and WEEE:

Richard McCombs – MBA Polymers
Mail: rmccombs@mbapolymers.com
MBA polymers logo
Keith Freegard – Axion Polymers
Mail: kfreegard@axionrecycling.com
Axion polymers logo
Chris Slijkhuis – Müller-Guttenbrunn Group
Mail: slijkhuis@mgg-recycling.com
Muller guttenbrunn group logo
Luc Waignein – Galloo
Mail: luc.waignein@galloo.com
Galloo logo

I am pleased to offer our MBA Polymers Newsletter for Q2 2016. In this last quarter, we have seen remarkable events likely to affect MBA Polymers, the plastics recycling industry and the global economy. In particular, the Brexit vote is changing the landscape as we speak and will continue to do so for the next two years.

However, MBA Polymers remains optimistic that the tipping point for the plastics recycling industry is close at hand. We continue to receive interest from major electronics and automotive companies, as well as end consumers. Most recently, we have become the first company to successfully manufacture and commercialise post-consumer PC/ABS pellets made from shredded waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE).

MBA Polymers benefits greatly from our dedicated team of workers and no-one is a better example than our Director of Engineering, Jim Zechinati. As Jim states so well in our latest team interview, “…we can leverage our technical advantages and global plant locations to serve our customers and expand the use of post-consumer recycled polymers throughout the world.”

One of Jim’s responsibilities is to monitor MBA’s safety reports. I am pleased to share that our most recent data shows a steady reduction in our Recordable Accident Rate.

Accidents rate chart showing reduction in accidents

Elsewhere in this edition, we explore how 40 major businesses and cities are set to re-think the future of plastic, revisit the pressing issue of ocean plastic waste, and share how India is using a plastic polymer-based glue to create cost-effective, durable roads.

Please also join us for our founder Mike Biddle’s upcoming talk at the Plasticity Forum in London in September. Mike also recently spoke at the Plasticity Forum in Shanghai. You can find all the events at which MBA is speaking here.

Finally, one of the challenges of the plastics recycling industry is EU legislation, which regularly defines new threshold values for more substances, and can have a negative impact on our ability to develop new recycled materials. This seems to run contrary to the European Commission’s circular economy ambitions. In response, Chris Slijkhuis, E-Waste Recycling and Public Affairs Director at Müller-Guttenbrunn Group, Keith Freegard, Director at Axion Polymers, and I are organising an industry effort to present the following proposals to the EC:

  • Realistic thresholds for substances of concern and a continuous exchange of views between the legislator and the recycling industry if changes are planned.
  • Regulators across member states should take a pragmatic and balanced approach to the allowable levels of residual trace legacy additives remaining inside recycled plastics during the transition to a circular material flow.
  • Similarly, it is important to set realistic levels of allowable trace chemical additives in terms of the risks posed and potential detection by widely used laboratory instruments.

If you are interested in adding your support to this effort, please contact me.

Thank you for your support and interest in topics important to our company, and please don’t hesitate to approach me with any questions.

Respectfully yours,

Richard McCombs, CEO
rmccombs@mbapolymers.com

Jim Zechinati explains how MBA’s Engineering team collaborates with customers to deliver enhanced performance characteristics, and shares his thoughts on the challenges and opportunities for a global recycling company in a fast-moving world.

1. Could you describe your role and responsibilities at MBA Polymers?

As Director of Engineering, I’m responsible for overseeing the efforts of MBA’s Engineering team. We provide technical support to MBA’s three recycling plants in areas including R&D, product development, process development, plant engineering, capital projects and customer technical support.

 

2. How does MBA work with its customers to tailor the characteristics of their products?

Our raw material derives from a broad range of plastic-rich waste streams. Our first challenge is to make highly pure polymer grades with consistent properties suitable for a great many applications. These include various grades of ABS, PS, PP, PE, filled PP, and now PCABS. When our customers require diverse performance characteristics, we work closely with them to develop products that meet their needs. Often, this means developing additional processing steps or property-enhancing additives. The MBA Engineering Team formulates any additives and tests the plastics at the customer’s facility. In this way, we have formed close working relationships with many large manufacturers and brands.

 

3. Could you share an example?

One major manufacturer uses our polymers to produce office equipment. In some of its latest applications, our materials have been approved for large visual parts that require a Class A molded surface. Historically, these applications would be reserved for virgin resins, but through our process development efforts, we have been able to achieve the exceptionally high purity required to fulfil this requirement.

 

4. What plastics recycling challenges do you face and how are you working to overcome them?

Plastics recycling is a rapidly evolving industry in an ever-changing business landscape. The challenges we face include price competition from virgin resin made with cheap oil, changes to laws such as China’s Green Fence, consistency in raw material quality and pricing from our source suppliers, and customer requests for improved product performance. To maintain our competitive edge, we continuously improve our plant efficiencies and identify cost-cutting opportunities. Similarly, we embrace the opportunity to exceed customer expectations and differentiate ourselves by providing exceptional products and customer service.

 

5. What are your ambitions for the business?

I believe there are tremendous opportunities for MBA to grow as a leader in the plastics recycling industry. Major manufacturers need resin supply partners capable of providing large volumes of consistently high quality recycled resins on a global basis. MBA is one of the few companies able to deliver this. Additionally, we can leverage our technical advantages and global plant locations to serve our customers and expand the use of post-consumer recycled polymers throughout the world.