Recyclate is a raw material that is sent to, and processed in a waste recycling plant or materials recovery facility which will be used to form new products. The material is collected in various methods and delivered to a facility where it undergoes re-manufacturing so that it can be used in the production of new materials or products. For example, plastic bottles that are collected can be re-used and made into plastic pellets, a new product.
Quality of Recyclate
The quality of recyclate is recognized as one of the main challenges that needs to be addressed for the success of a long-term vision of a green economy and achieving zero waste. Recyclate quality is generally referring to how much of the raw material is made up of target material compared to the amount of non-target material and other non-recyclable material.
Only target material is likely to be recycled, so a higher amount of non-target and non-recyclable material will reduce the quantity of recycling product. A high proportion of non-target and non-recyclable material can make it more difficult for re-processors to achieve “high-quality” recycling. When the recyclate is of poor quality, it is more likely to end up being down-cycled or, in more extreme cases, sent to other recovery options or landfilled. For example, to facilitate the re-manufacturing of clear polycarbonate products there are tight restrictions for other plastic resin types going into the re-melt process.
The quality of recyclate not only supports high-quality recycling, but it can also deliver significant environmental benefits by reducing, reusing and keeping products out of landfills. High-quality recycling can help support growth in the economy by maximizing the economic value of the waste material collected. Higher income levels from the sale of quality recyclate can return value which can be significant to local governments, households, and businesses. Pursuing high-quality recycling can also provide consumer and business confidence in the waste and resource management sector and may encourage investment in that sector.
There are many actions along the recycling supply chain that can influence and affect the material quality of recyclates. It begins with the waste producers who place non-target and non-recyclable wastes in recycling collection. This can affect the quality of final recyclate streams or require further efforts to discard those materials at later stages in the recycling process.
The different collection systems can result in different levels of contamination. Depending on which materials are collected together, extra effort is required to sort this material back into separate streams and can significantly reduce the quality of the final product.
Transportation and the compaction of materials can make it more difficult to separate material back into separate waste streams. Sorting facilities are not one hundred per cent effective in separating materials, despite improvements in technology and quality recyclate which can see a loss in recyclate quality.
The storage of materials outside where the product can become wet can cause problems for re-processors. Reprocessing facilities may require further sorting steps to further reduce the amount of non-target and non-recyclable material. Each action along the recycling path plays a part in the quality of recyclate.
“Bucket List” for Quality Recyclate
Can we hope for national collective push to achieve some worthwhile action plan that could possibly drive up the quality of the materials being collected for recycling and sorted at materials recovery facilities before sending to the reprocessing market? A plan could possibly include:
- Delivering greater transparency about the quality of recyclate.
- Assist recyclates producers contracting with materials recovery facilities to identify what is require of them.
- Stimulate various manufacturing sectors of industries (those capable of using recyclate for new products) to create better demand for quality recyclates.
Focus for such a plan could be on:
- Collection systems and input contamination
- Sorting facilities – material sampling and transparency
- Material quality benchmarking and standards
Action plans can be worked out based upon the above 3 focus items.
The plan could include a ‘buy-back” option. Buy-back means that the cleaned recyclate are purchased, thus providing a clear incentive for use and creating a stable supply. The post-processed material can then be sold. Depending on the nature of the industry, buy back option can help a manufacturer reduce operating costs by reducing use of virgin materials and still make the grade for acceptable industrial standards products. Government subsidies are necessary to make buy-back option a viable enterprise.
This process of recycling as well as reusing the recycled material has proven advantageous because it reduces amount of waste sent to landfills, conserves natural resources, saves energy, reduces greenhouse gas emissions, and helps create new jobs. Recycled materials can also be converted into new products that can be consumed again, such as paper, plastic, and glass.