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Plastics recycling to curb e-waste, maximise profitability

Posted: 22 Apr 2016     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:data collection  circular economy solutions  plastics recyling 

Electronic OEMs who, by tradition, have focused on reclaiming precious metals and components, are finding it daunting to figure out ways to reuse plastics and newer materials. But soon it will be part of manufacturers' good business practise.

Plastics up. Metals down. New recycling challenges.

Product designers are finding exponentially more applications for plastic materials – replacing easier-to-recycle metals (as well as glass and plant fibre). Yet few have learned how to design products as circular economy solutions, in which parts and materials are purposefully selected for efficient post-customer collection and leveraged for additional applications needing the same parts and materials.

Society benefits from the reuse and recycling of plastics, which stems the pollution of oceans and helps curb our burgeoning landfills.

Plastics now funneled to metals recyclers

With plastics flooding the waste stream, traditional recyclers of metals are now receiving plastics as well. They are new to identifying, processing, and finding markets for plastics.

This month I co-led an ISRI workshop on measuring and maximising the business and environmental benefits of plastics recycling. The workshop was attended by numerous metals recyclers who shared that they view themselves as being at the beginning of a learning curve, and need direction and coaching to ramp up their plastics-recycling efforts efficiency and profitably.

data optimisation

Figure 1: Cope Plastics and Eco-Catalyst's Smart EOL software collaborates for a sustainable plastics recycling programme.

Data to the Rescue

In order to recycle plastics profitably, data is needed for optimising both financial and environmental outcomes. As presented by workshop presenter Dr. Ramesh Srinivasan, CEO of Eco-Catalyst, this data includes raw material prices, transportation distances, freight and labour costs, sale prices, facility overheads, Selling, General & Administrative Expense (SG&A) overheads, and commodity prices. Data collection can seem overwhelming, but approaching it systematically and seeing that data as a powerful tool to enhance your organisation's profitability can make all the difference.

In a compelling case study, Cope Plastics environmental manager Andy Fergurson walked us through a successful pilot study, in which Cope used Eco-Catalyst's Smart EOL software to create a profitable, sustainable plastics recycling programme. Fergurson reported, "Now we can quickly identify the best opportunities. My team can make the same decisions I would make without having made the same mistakes. Overall profit can increase without throughput increasing. Our plastics programme is sustainable and it is easier to show that to executives, (especially helpful when trying to allocate resources)."

Unexpected benefits from the data

Fergurson also listed unexpected bonuses of having new visibility to the data: increased efficiency, a better understanding of environmental impacts, better marketability, higher employee morale, and new opportunities and partnerships for the company.

Plastic parts designed for circular economy & profitable end of life

The time is ripe to design all products and services for the circular economy, and ramp up our efforts in plastics recycling. With the right data and analysis ready and waiting at our fingertips, the future is looking bright (and profitable).

-Pamela J. Gordon

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