2030 is the date by which UK brands and manufacturers of plastic packaging must be using a minimum of 30% recycled plastic. Closer still, 2025 is the date by which the 25% mark must be met – with this now less than four years away, it’s likely that this objective will take centre stage for brands, retailers and manufacturers.
With the eyes of the consumers watching eagerly, we may witness the competition heat up to see who can be the first to meet these targets and be viewed favourably by the public.
While we often talk about the importance of the quality of reprocessed and recycled resin, how to improve the value to scrap plastic and the importance of picking suppliers who can consistently provide large volumes of quality material – we wanted to address the challenges faced by manufacturers when it comes to working with recycled plastic.
Our Technical Director, Beril Baykal Yesilirmark, is based in our Turkey office. Beril has an extensive career history in the technical and R&D side of the plastic industry, working with raw materials, through to recycled plastic, and plays a critical role in building Vanden’s technical infrastructure for all of global business divisions.
In this Q&A feature, Beril will address:
>The challenges faced.
>The technical capabilities required.
>The role that both quality and contamination play in end applications.
Why are the use of recycled plastics so challenging for plastic manufacturers?
Challenges can be identified as below categories.
- Low collection rates of used plastics
- Insuffecient sorting
- Excessive contamination
- Lack of design suitable to be recycled
- Lack of initiatives to Support Recycling ecosystem
- Reaching reliable consistent sources
What challenges will plastic manufacturers have when they have to start using up to 30% recycled content?
Ultimately, it comes down to infrastructure and supply. If we compare the total production capacity of packaging and calculate 30% recycled content usage, simply put, the volumes and infrastructure that is required is not there to feed this demand.
Because the sorting infrastructure and sources are limited, it will be challenging for manufacturers to find reliable sources of recycled materials. On the other hand, there is a need for new regulations and specifications to be re-designed by recycled content usage. Many of the producers are expecting the same standard of quality and comparing end products with existing criteria.
What kind of technical capabilities should plastic recyclers have?
Plastic recyclers have the responsibility to select and use the raw materials suitable for their end product. This includes meeting the criteria for technical performance, health aspects, visual appearance and regulations.
It is very much dependent on the systems that recyclers implement into their selection, segregation, cleaning, production and quality control processes.
We are helping and guiding our suppliers and customers starting from scratch when it comes to the design of recycling plants to production capabilities optimization to increase efficiency to introduce recycled plastics into their systems.
How can a plastic recycler know if their material is good enough to suit a certain end market application?
Expertise in the areas of market needs, standards and application specifications are required here . Not each recycler has the time and resources to analyse and act according to rapidly changing market demands.
We are focussing our own expertise on application base segments to better serve our customers and speak the language overlapping with their needs. Afterwards scanning best suitable source to match the requirements. The diversity of the material sources and suppliers is the key to opening opportunities for both ends, and limits the risk of being attached, and therefore reliant, on one supplier/customer – supporting business continuity and minimal disruption.
Technically Vanden’s analysis supplier base makes tests and apply a validation process with regular checks on the consistency of the material.
What are some of the common contaminations in recycled plastic that can limit end market applications?
Contamination is the one of the main limiting factors that decreases the value of recycled plastics.
The main problem starts with limited segregation at the source; If all the recyclables and general waste collected at the same stream before being segregated, the contamination levels increasing dramatically.
Hard to identify plastics on the sorting lines is also another factor of contaminants; For instance, some films look so similar and are incredibly difficult to distinguish by standard untrained workers. So, these will be added to the stream.
Technical capabilities of recycling facility; facilities must have the proper machinery, washing tanks. It is essential for facilities to have the capability to separate labels, and well as other material like wood, metal or other plastic combinations from the system to achieve high quality recyclables.
When it comes to production of recycled granules, filtering systems and removal of humidity is the critical steps that determine the quality level.
What are the common reasons recycled plastic may not reach the required standards of a manufacturer?
If proper identification and classification of the feedstock is not properly executed, the entire process will be affected. This requires equipment, devices, and trained workers. If a wide variety of different sources are being used, this will cause fluctuation at the properties that will cause problems at the enduser producers processes.
Filtering and impurity elimination systems is an important factor. Now there are advanced solutions to separate colour and different plastics. Proper packaging and storage conditions play a critical role in increasing the lifetime of recycled plastics.
What is Vanden doing to combat these challenges for both the recycler and the manufacturer?
Vanden has the advantageous position of understanding both suppliers and customers challenges and needs - we are the bridge that connects both ends and matches the requirements.
We help suppliers to first identify, then enhance the quality of their material to reach a wide range of networks to source their materials to different producers. On the customer side, Vanden works as a solution provider for all needs when it comes to plastic recycling, from raw material to machinery requirements, technical analysis, quality control and consultancy when launching their recycled content product. This is done via supporting client’s efforts that are aligned with circular economy and sustainability targets.
What is your vision for Vanden’s technical department in the future?
Our technical capabilities are far reaching, with Vanden Technical Lab investments already in place, these services will be available to all our suppliers and customers.
Vanden’s unique position will remain, enabling our team to support both sides of the business from waste right through to product at each step. This is a full implementation of circular economy that we are analyzing from source to the end.
The future is full of opportunities, and worldwide, Vanden will be the pioneer, setting the standards in the area of plastic recycling - where there is a lot of confusion right now.
Our laboratory capabilities will service those customers and suppliers in the UK, Turkey, Hong Kong and other sites. Working closely with our customers with regards to their ongoing opportunities and with new projects, supplying the right recycled materials with alternative solutions is the key for us.
Introducing recycled plastics and taking an innovative approach is another passion of Vanden’s. We are happy to work hand in hand with the industry leaders, universities, institutions to support increase recycling and find better solutions to enhance performance of the usage of recyclables. To learn more about how we can help your business, get in contact with the team today.