Monthly Archives: March 2018

  • The Plastics Issue

     

    As you will all be aware, there is a lot of focus in the news on plastics.  Whether it’s plastics in the oceans as highlighted by David Attenborough, Chinese import restrictions, Single Use Plastic Bans, or deposit schemes for plastic bottles, it’s everywhere.  The reasons are all related, and it comes from the fact that we are not good at making plastic things recyclable.  Plastic is a wonderful invention, first used in mass production in the 1930’s, with an explosion in its use and applications in the 1980’s and 1990’s as High Performance Plastics were developed.  Plastics now provide many different functions, from product strength, flexibility, water resistance, fire retardant, aesthetic appearance.  It seems, whatever the requirement, there is a plastic polymer stream that can deliver the answer, often with many different types of plastic in the same product.

     

    Unfortunately, this complexity makes plastics difficult to recycle.  First of all, you need clean, single polymer stream plastic free from all contaminants.  This is difficult and costly to achieve due to the many different types of plastics out there and the levels of contamination can be very high, particularly from local authority domestic plastics collections.  Then you need the customers with sufficient confidence in your product to purchase it, this takes time and a lot of laboratory testing to ensure the quality meets the customers exacting standards.  Historically, this has been done in China where labour is cheap, the manufacturers are on the doorstep, and where the disposal standards for the separated plastic which cannot be recycled are lower than here in the UK.  This occurred on an enormous industrial scale, leading to huge volumes of discarded plastic polluting the land in China and entering local water-courses and ultimately, our oceans.  China has said “no more”, and I support them.  It’s time we stopped exporting our problems to those less able to deal with it.

     

    We at Environcom took a more proactive step to ensure we were not part of the on-going problem.  After several weeks of research and trials, we identified the densities required to clean and separate the main polymer streams in our WEEE plastics.  Unfortunately, we were using buckets, so throughput was slow but we made progress.  We were soon ready to build our first prototype density separation tank.  Once we had achieved the desired results, we were able to replicate this to create a complete separation process which takes mixed and contaminated plastics, and separates them into clean separated polymer streams.  It looks like we have over-come the first difficulty.  The second, and more challenging difficulty, is gaining the trust in the product from the buyers looking for long term relationships.  Right now, the global plastics market is in turmoil, as the whole world has to adjust to the new plastics horizon.  Cheap “recycling” in China has curtailed serious investment in plastics recycling elsewhere, and many British companies have struggled but failed to survive over the last decade so there is little domestic capacity to process our plastics into the pellets required by manufacturers.

     

    Our pro-activity means we are in a strong position to take advantage of this chaos.  We already have a process, scientific reports, samples dispatched to customers.  Right now we are waiting on our potential customers to confirm their requirements in order to be able to import and use them in manufacture.  This is a complex and time consuming process, but well worth it.  I am proud of our plastics achievements so far, and fully expect them to develop further in 2018.

     

     

     

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