Recycling of plastics waste is one type of material recovery process intended to save resources (virgin raw materials, water, and energy), while minimising harmful emissions into air, water and soil as well as any impacts on human health. The environmental impact of recycling should be assessed throughout the whole life cycle of the recycling system (from the waste generation point to the disposal of final residues). To ensure that recycling constitutes the best environmental option for treating the available waste, some prerequisites should be met:
Recycling scheme being contemplated should generate lower environmental impacts than alternative recovery options
Existing or potential market outlets should be identified that will secure a sustainable industrial recycling operation
Collection and sorting schemes should be properly designed to deliver recyclable plastics waste fractions fitting reasonably well with the available recycling technologies and with the (changing) needs of the identified market outlets, preferably at minimum costs to society.
Standards have been produced in accordance with the guidance produced by CEN on Environmental Aspects and in accordance with CEN/TR 15353 Plastics. Recycled Plastics. Guidelines for the development of standards relating to recycled plastics.
CEN/TR 15353 considers the general environmental aspects that are specific to the recycling process.
It is often impossible to trace back each individual product at the end user stage and to check whether the product was used correctly through its life. Consequently, products can be out of industrial control. Contamination with other materials may occur, which could affect the product's suitability for recycling into the intended application. In that case, the recyclers have two options. Either their input control or sorting equipment guarantee that contaminants do not enter the recycling process or the recyclers must use a qualified process in which the pollution and/or mixed materials are removed so that they do not affect the intended application for the recycled material.
Legislation, international standards or end users may require traceability of the constituent components of products in order to allow better product control or to locate and withdraw unwanted material and/or defective products from the market. The purpose of standards for plastics recycling is to describe the necessary procedures for mechanical recycling that are needed for products that have been manufactured completely or in part from recycled plastics and need proof of traceability. It will enable producers to use the recycled materials with confidence and it will provide the end users with a basis for their acceptance.
In addition, during processing and use of the original product, chemical or structural changes in the material, may have occurred. In that case, the recyclers can recycle into new materials with reduced properties, they can try to repair the material damage, or they enhance the material properties by addition of virgin components or additives.
A recycling process should be designed such that contaminants or material damage that might have an influence on the intended application are removed or repaired to such an extent that they will not negatively influence the suitability of the recycled material for the intended application. If it is not possible to remove contamination or repair the damage during recycling, the purchase and/or control of the incoming materials should guarantee that contaminated or damaged material does not enter the process in sufficient quantity to affect the properties of the recyclate.
Controls of the input material, of the recycling process and of the material produced are the prime instruments that determine the quality of recycled products.
If the origin of all the component parts of a product, virgin as well as recyclates, is known, it is possible to calculate the recycled content of the product, a value which may be required by customers or regulators.
The following standards covering plastics recycling are available:
BS EN 15342:2007
Plastics. Recycled plastics. Characterization of polystyrene (PS) recyclates
BS EN 15343:2007
Plastics. Recycled plastics. Plastics recycling traceability and assessment of conformity and recycled content
BS EN 15344:2007
Plastics. Recycled plastics. Characterization of polyethylene (PE) recyclates
BS EN 15346:2007
Plastics. Recycled plastics. Characterization of poly (vinyl chloride) (PVC) recyclates
BS EN 15345:2007
Plastics. Recycled plastics. Characterization of polypropylene (PP) recyclates
BS EN 15347:2007
Plastics. Recycled Plastics. Characterization of plastics waste
BS EN 15348:2007
Plastics. Recycled plastics. Characterization of poly(ethylene terephthalate) (PET) recyclates