Love them or hate them, plastics are essential building materials for many products ranging from mundane everyday household items to critical life-saving devices, and they are likely here to stay. Many companies are looking for a way to embrace the benefits offered by plastics while being environmentally conscious. Providing recycled polymer solutions is one way that companies can have both.
In some cases, governments are beginning to regulate post-consumer recycled (PCR) content in plastic products such as packaging and containers. According to the Association of Plastic Recyclers, four states have recycled content requirements for plastic products. California’s laws cover beverage bottles and reusable plastic shopping bags. They also require third-party PCR certification for plastic bags. Washington’s covers plastic beverage, wine, and milk containers; plastic household cleaning and personal care products; plastic trash bags; and reusable plastic carryout bags. New Jersey’s laws cover plastic beverage containers, other rigid containers, plastic carryout bags, and trash bags. Maines laws cover plastic beverage containers.
California led the drive with its law going into effect in 2022, and the other states followed suit, with phased-in processes starting this year and next. So, it isn’t hard to imagine this is just the beginning as more states adopt laws and the list of regulated products grows.
Recycled Polymer Solutions from Three Recycling Processes
There is much discussion about the challenges of recycling plastic. But all plastic isn’t recycled in the same manner. There are three distinct recycling processes for plastic materials that we will cover.
Primary recycling refers to using uncontaminated pre-consumer industrial scrap and salvage materials. This material may have been molded but was never made into the product or used by consumers. The material is mechanically ground and processed to create new products. It may be called closed-loop recycling because the material can be turned into a new product without losing its properties. Thermoplastics such as PC, ABS, PBT, PP, PE, PET, and PVC, can be mechanically recycled.
Secondary recycling refers to the mechanical processing (grinding and melting) and reforming of post-consumer plastic materials. Since the purity content of plastics in the end-of-life and post-consumer streams are unknown, material detection methods, such as Four-transform and near-infrared spectroscopy, x-ray detection, and lasers, may be used in the separation process. It may be washed after grinding. During the grinding and remelting phase, virgin polymer made be added. This process does not alter the primary polymer, but its weight falls due to the scission of the polymer chains. This, as well as possible contamination of other polymers, can result in a loss of properties.
Tertiary recycling refers to the chemical processing of post-consumer plastics to isolate components for reuse in manufacturing. During this process, the polymer chains are converted into smaller molecules. The conversion products, typically liquid or gas, can be used as feedstock for fuels, new polymers, and other chemicals. To make new polymers, processors depolymerize the polymers through a catalytic reaction, creating monomers that can be reused to synthesize the original polymers.
Enhancing Properties of Recycled Polymers
To produce sustainable plastics for recycled polymer solutions, processors must often treat the resulting material with additives to get the needed properties. Post-consumer plastic is often of questionable content, and sorting incompatible plastics can be costly and time-consuming. When incompatible plastics are mixed, phase separation can occur due to differences in their chemical compositions. The molecules repel each other instead of bonding, leading to weak and brittle materials.
Compatibilization reduces the need for sorting. Adding compatibilizers can help ‘tie-together’ polymers that may contaminate recycled feed streams and improve the mechanical properties of the final compound. These additives usually contain multiple functional groups that react or interact with different types of plastics in the mix, resulting in better interfacial adhesion and dispersion. Compatibalizing the materials helps to minimize the potential of delamination and other molded part defects.
Property enhancers or functional additives are often used, as well. Recycling processes can degrade the molecular structure of the plastic, reducing its performance characteristics. Property enhancers help restore or boost recycled feed streams’ physical properties, such as impact, toughness, and other physical properties. Fillers and reinforcements such as glass, mineral, or carbon fibers can improve strength and stiffness, and stabilizers can be used to increase resistance to heat, light, or oxygen, which can cause degradation. Flame retardants or surface optimizers may also be added.
EnCom is Committed to Providing Recycled Polymer Solutions
We understand the importance for our customers to help their customers meet sustainability objectives and regulatory requirements while meeting their product specifications. Our Evolve products can be formulated with up to 100% sustainable feedstock. They are primarily black; some products may be available in natural or custom colors.
Our Evolve product line is ideal for injection molded products used in automotive, industrial, lawn & garden, tools, electronic equipment, and general-purpose applications, depending on the blend. We have sustainable feedstock options for acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS), acrylonitrile styrene acrylate (ASA), polybutylene terephthalate (PBT), polycarbonate (PC), as well as blends of PBT/ABS, PC/ABS, PC/ASA. Some of our stock products are reinforced with glass fiber or have added flame retardants or UV stabilizers. As always, when customers have unique requirements, we work with them to develop a formulation that fits their needs.
Contact us to learn how we can help you provide your customers with recycled, sustainable plastic solutions.
For More Information
Please call our main office at (866) 481-7700 and ask to speak to a technical specialist.