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Feature: Making it simpler

The implementation of the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive is imminent, and it has been suggested that there could be a clear
marketing opportunity for plastic producers that align their products with the requirements of the original equipment manufacturers (OEMs).

The market is a small fraction of the plastic producer's total business. Many do not consider it a major focus, preferring to invest on bigger segments such as auto-motives or packaging. But Frost & Sullivan research analyst Lucia Castro Diaz believes there is a great window of opportunity for a company that gives the market precedence.

She says: "Plastic producers willing to make a marketing effort directed towards the electronic equipment market could gain customer loyalty and the benefits of a stable and growing market."

With the directive set to make manufacturers responsible for the end-of-life recovery and recycling of electrical pro-ducts, the range of plastics used in these will become far more streamlined. To bring about long-term financial savings, Diaz suggests that OEMs will change the design
components they order from plastic producers in the supply chain. This will lead to a gradual narrowing
of the range of plastics used and a possible standardis-ation of grades.

Diaz says that a wide range of plastics makes the recycling process too expensive due to the separation that needs to take place before shredding. "The variable recyclability of different plastics will also become a determining factor when OEMs choose the plastics to be used in electronic products. Plastics that are easier to recycle will command higher value."

She suggests that monomaterial (unfilled) or un-blended and crystalline polymers will be favoured.

Polypropylene could also find greater application as companies can easily modify it to cover a wider property range, thereby reducing the plastics in appliances.

And coloured plastics that do not require paint or finish coatings could become more popular since removal of coatings is time consuming. But Diaz says that plastics such as polyvinyl chloride that are not easily recyclable will progressively lose value.

She says it is imperative that producers support the development of recycling technologies which simplify the process and make it financially viable. Some producers have begun marketing additives, such as compatibilisers and chain extenders, which improve the quality of recycled plastics. However, recyclers are hesitant to use these as they feel they are not economical.

Progress has been made with the development of automatic sorting, improvements in the machinery used to process recycled plastics and the extraction of flame-retardants. But with technological advancements and changing trends in electrical goods, the lifespan of products
is on the decline, making the ability to recycle of increasing importance.

The use of plastics in electronics will grow, says Diaz, and this will make their limited longevity less important. But as this market opens up, many European OEMs are moving their production to Asian countries such as China and India due to lower manufacturing and labour costs.

Diaz said: "The reduction of manufacturing in Europe is likely to have a negative impact on the consumption of plastics in this region. But to minimise the impact and take advantage of the lower labour costs, European plastic p

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