October 2005

WEEE directive reduces variety of plastics used

London— The new EU legislation (Directive 2002/96/EC) regarding the collection and recycling of waste from electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) went into effect August 13, 2005. This legislation means that producers of Electrical and Electronic Equipment (EEE) will now have to finance the end-of-life recycling and recovery costs of all their products. As a result, in order to bring about long-term financial savings, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) are likely to introduce design changes to their products and plastic producers will have to adapt to these changes.

Among the many repercussions of the design changes will be a gradual reduction of the variety of plastics used in EEE products. A wider range of plastics makes the recycling process difficult and expensive due to the separation involved prior to the shredding of material. Hence, a gradual narrowing of the plastics used and a possible standardization of grades is predicted in the long term, once collection and recycling have started.

Plastics such as polypropylene (PP) could find greater application as companies can easily modify them to cover a wider property range, thereby reducing the plastics in appliances.

Lucia Castro Diaz, research analyst with Frost & Sullivan noted, “The variable “recyclability” of different plastics will also become a determining factor when OEMs choose the plastics to be used in EEE products. Plastics that are easier to recycle will command better value, thus Monomaterial (unfilled) plastics or unblended and crystalline polymers will be favored.”

On the other hand, plastics such as polyvinyl chloride (PVC) that are not easily recyclable will progressively lose value. In addition, colored plastics that do not require paint or finish coatings will become more popular, since removal of coatings is time-consuming.

With the increased emphasis on “recyclability”, some additive producers are starting to market additives to improve the quality of recycled plastics. While a few additives have been specifically designed for the task, most of them such as compatibilizers and chain extenders are familiar chemistries that are finding new applications. However, recyclers are hesitant to use them as they feel that they are not economical, due to the low price of recyclates.

Since some essential plastics in EEE are difficult and/or expensive to recycle, it is imperative that plastics producers support the development of recycling technologies that simplify the process and make it financially viable.

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