In this section we will examine the ways in which waste is collected and processed prior to any recycling or energy recovery operations.
Waste collection schemes are an essential first step in any waste management process and play a key role in its overall performance. They determine the composition of waste streams and therefore their suitability for downstream pre-treatment, sorting and recovery operations. In addition, efficient schemes, approved and supported by waste owners, help solve litter issues.
There are many household waste collection schemes in Europe. Some capture plastics waste alone; others capture plastics together with other materials. Ideally, these schemes should share the same objective of maximising recovery of recyclables and recovering value from waste by diverting this valuable resource from landfilling. They should also be aligned with downstream infrastructure for pre-treatment, sorting, and recovery to maximise recovery, improve environmental performance and manage costs. Today, dedicated collection of commingled dry recyclables (packaging and other household goods mainly made of plastics, metals, paper, cardboard and sometimes glass) offers an attractive solution to maximise the amount of waste recovered.
In addition to municipal waste collection schemes, other product-related systems, for example for end-of-life vehicles, electrical and electronic appliances and plastic agricultural films, also provide a valuable stream of resources for recycling and recovery.
Finally, appropriate collection of industrial and commercial waste, organised by the waste owner, also helps ensure the maximum recovery of this major waste stream so that it does not end up in landfill.
PlasticsEurope is committed to contributing to the
development of collection schemes in European countries to capture all waste plastics for recycling and recovery.
Waste pre-treatment and sorting
Effective pre-treatment and sorting operations for plastics waste divert this valuable resource from landfill to deliver material with the required market-driven qualities for recycling and energy recovery. A wide range of technologies are currently used for waste pre-treatment and sorting. These range from manual dismantling and picking to automated processes such as shredding, sieving, air or liquid density separation, magnetic separation, and highly sophisticated spectrophotometric sorting technologies such as UV/VIS, NIR, Laser, etc.
Modern sorting plants are often complex facilities that apply several of these technologies adapted to specific waste streams to achieve optimum cost-effective output. Today’s pre-treatment and sorting operations for commingled packaging and other dry recyclable materials can process more than 100,000 tonnes/year of plastics waste, producing sorted waste with a purity higher than 95% for some plastics.
Different forms of waste, for example end-of-life vehicles and electronic products, may also require legally mandated treatment / depollution operations to manage the waste in safe conditions and divert it from landfill. Such waste is usually processed to recover mainly metals but some large plastics components from these waste streams can also be recycled. With some advanced sorting technologies, the recovery of plastics from shredder residues is also possible.
Plastics fractions contained in complex waste streams may not be easily enough sortable nor available in sufficient amounts to make mechanical recycling a viable solution from both an economic and environmental standpoint. In such cases, alternative recovery solutions exist, such as feedstock/chemical recycling or recovery of the calorific value of the plastic waste to substitute conventional fuels.
PlasticsEurope is committed to sharing its knowledge on waste pre-treatment and sorting and particularly to offer such information to European countries in a development stage.
Read about the next step in the process, recycling and energy recovery.
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