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Recycling polymers presents a significant opportunity to companies seeking to unlock more value from materials in their supply chains, reveals a new report produced by the World Economic Forum, in collaboration with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation (EMF) and McKinsey. Entitled ‘Towards the Circular Economy: Accelerating the scale-up across global supply chains’, the report highlights a variety of opportunities for companies to make the switch from linear to circular business models, with particular emphasis on creating circular flows of major raw materials. The EMF estimates that the value to the global economy of transitioning to circular models could reach $1 trillion annually by 2025.

High potential materials

Polymers are singled out as offering ‘high potential’ to companies seeking to maximise productivity, reduce resource use and eliminate waste in global supply chains. They exist in high volumes and currently lack systematic reuse solutions, the report suggests. Additionally, separating different polymers from complex waste streams and transforming them into raw materials with the same quality and performance, is challenging.

Identifying polymers

Whereas the process for sorting metals is fairly straightforward, due to their distinct physical properties (such as density, magnetic properties, melting points or electrical conductivity), separating polymers is tougher as they have few differentiating properties. They do have distinct bonding features at the molecular level, but exploiting this means investing in advanced separating techniques.

MBA Polymers was cited in the report as one of the few players worldwide to have invested in industrial recycling processes capable of sorting certain plastic polymers. We offer high quality recovered ABS, HIPS, PP, HDPE and filled PP, for example.

The issue of polymer blends is highlighted too. These are currently sold on as mixed by-product plastics, as the contamination associated with blends almost inevitably results in lower material quality. The report also mentions the importance of good quality feedstock, which may itself require some sorting prior to arriving at a processing plant.

Collaborating with suppliers

Many companies, including Philips, Electrolux and Kingfisher, are working to streamline the volume of polymers they use and cut down on toxic chemicals, while maintaining product performance and complying with rigorous legislation (such as the EU’s REACH programme and the US EPA’s Toxic Substances Control Act). Some are working with partners to boost collection rates, once a product has reached end-of-life, and collaborating with leading recyclers.

For example, Kingfisher is creating its first closed loop product, a new power drill. Working with its drill manufacturer in China and MBA Polymers, the company is building circularity into the product right from the product design stage. It plans to use recycled plastics and establish a reverse cycle to collect end-of-life drills for refurbishment in Europe or recycling at MBA’s China plant, where the plastic will be recycled into high quality plastic resin for new drills.

To view the full WEF report, please click here.