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Intelligent streaming the way forward for WEEE

Intelligent streaming of product types from waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) is crucial to maximise material recovery rates and meet the fundamental aims of the WEEE Directive, claims a plastics recycler.

Axion Polymers technical director Keith Freegard says greater effort to process WEEE in sorted streams of similar product types is needed to achieve true sustainability and deliver greater, high quality yields of polymer recyclate.

Freegard said many countries across Europe had failed to implement the literal meaning of the separate removal and treatment of materials listed in annex two of the directive, with plants focused on metal recovery at minimum treatment costs, leaving the plastics highly commingled and contaminated.

Streaming by product type, which has happened by default with fridges and CRTs, makes it possible to implement a more efficient de-pollution regime using processes designed for that particular application. These processes typically produce recovered plastic streams that are much less mixed and can then be upgraded for use in higher-grade applications. Shredding mixed WEEE items in bulk - the minimum-cost route pursued in much of Europe - misses opportunities to maximise recycling rates and thus promote closed-loop recycling, said Freegard.

The main types of polymers used across different brands of the same product types are generally similar. Freegard therefore suggests that the streaming of vacuum cleaners, for example, into a single product type would lead to higher recovery rates of the polymer ABS, as well as allowing for de-pollution regimes to be tailored to suit particular items.

Right now producers are focussed upon the immediate cost-impacts of WEEE legislation, but in the next few years they will realise that streaming of the collected post-consumer goods by product type, and even by individual brand-name, will be the most sustainable way to deliver high-grade, closed-loop polymer recyclates with significant savings against virgin raw materials consumption in the total product life-cycle, he added.


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