Source of waste postindustrial vs postconsumer recycling

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On the basis of data from the Netherlands, it is found that the quantity of plastic waste being reabsorbed into the production system almost matches the quantity of postindustrial waste (Joosten, Hekkert and Worrell (2000). This is not surprising as the recycling rate for post-industrial material has been high for a long time, whilst the post consumer recycling rate has been low. In-house recycling of scrap plastics process waste is carried out extensively.

It makes financial sense to recycle post-industrial plastic waste as it is contaminant-free, consists of a single, identified polymer type and there is a demand for the recycled product. Thus, it is standard practice amongst resin producers, and most large fabricators to gather, recycle, and rework as much scrap as is possible in their processes. Scrap plastic is produced at every stage of manufacture. Resin producers, fabricators and converters all generate wastes from off-grade products, spillage and equipment cleaning. Fabricators and converters also produce waste from trimming, moulding and forming operations. Where certain smaller operators may not find it economic to employ in-plant reclamation, reprocessors collect, grind and blend these wastes for recycling as secondary resin. In such cases, plastic reprocessors know that it corresponds to a currently used material, is clean and can be reabsorbed without loss of quality. Both internal and external recycling from post-industrial scrap is therefore developed to a high degree.

This is in marked contrast to post-consumer recycling which, despite many efforts and policy initiatives, remains at a low level. There are a number of barriers to increasing the levels of post-consumer plastic recycling which are related to uncertainty concerning waste quality and complexity. These barriers are inter-linked and include the fact that plastic waste for recycling needs to be free of contamination and relatively homogeneous. Household plastic waste is often mixed with other household waste such as paper, metals and food waste. To ensure that the plastic is suitable for recycling this type of waste needs to be sorted and cleaned prior to processing.

Thus, for post-industrial material comprising clean scraps from the production process, estimates for the USA in the early 1990s put recycling of production scrap in the range between 75% and 90%, whilst post consumer recycling was around 1% to 3%. (Derry 1989). However, because of the already high levels of post-industrial scrap recycling, further recycling would need to come from MSW and other post-consumer waste

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