Did you ever think where all the sheets we manufacture and sell end up at the end of their life cycle? How many tons of sheets are thrown when people replace a pergola or renew acoustic walls? There is no real solution for these end-of-life sheets. They are made from engineered polymers (PC, PMMA, SAN, PETG, etc.) and are not fit for recycling in any of the existing recycling facilities. The sheet’s raw materials are not as common as those of bottles (PET) or bags (PE.) And still, we can’t ignore the waste they generate over time on earth. Therefore, the current solution for treating this waste is landfilling. This is not ideal environmentally, and in many cases, there is even real concern that landfilling is not done properly. As part of our group’s recycling vision and commitment to the circular economy model, we decided at Plazit-Polygal to pick up the gauntlet and take upon ourselves an extended manufacturer warranty for the products even at the end of their lifecycle.
The Challenges Along the Way
This endeavor is not a simple one. The used sheets are spread all over the map in a range of the different projects, and will magically appear to arrive at the factory. There are no rigid regulations forcing installers and consumers to vacate the sheets in an orderly fashion, in conjunction with an intricate collection array that needs to be set up. An inclusive global regulations system regarding end-of-life products seems to be emerging. However, at the moment it is mostly focused on common consumer products and not as much on plastic sheets.
Establishing a Reverse Logistic Array
In order to collect the used sheets, a reverse logistic array must be initiated. It would include collection from endpoints and transportation to a treatment center, where sorting, washing, cleaning, grinding and granulating will take place. The recycled material will be used as raw material, from which 100% recycled sheets will be manufactured. It should be noted that transportation across Europe is not an easy feat. It is expensive and involves cumbersome bureaucracy. Shipping waste between countries requires permits, and this regulatory aspect should be considered.
Another challenge is educating our end customers about sorting and source separation of the different types of sheets. To optimize the recycling processes, sheets made of the five different raw materials we use must be sorted correctly already at the customer’s end. Source separation is proven to be the most effective way for obtaining quality recycled raw material. The same is true for both plastic packaging and the sheets that we manufacture.
Plazit-Polygal Bulgaria – Europe’s Recycling Center
Plazit-Polygal Group’s ability to promote such an endeavor for recycling our used sheets rests on the solid technological ground. The company’s site in Bulgaria is equipped with sharp twin-screw extruder lines which allow for recycling ground-up waste back into raw material pellets. These are then distributed by the group to its production sites around the world, where they are used to produce 100% recycled sheets.
Developing a New Line of Product Based on Recycled Materials
Recycling and circular economics are desirable, but one should be aware that the resulting raw material does not have the exact same qualities as virgin material. As manufacturing experts, of both raw materials and end products thereof, we have specified the difference between both material groups. In terms of mechanical strength, durability in different weather conditions, and processing, no significant differences were detected between the groups. However, through observation of the optical qualities, it seems that quality injury exists. The recycled raw material contains a mixture of different colors. Therefore, it is not possible to obtain the same transparency that characterizes virgin polymer sheets.
The group has invested extensive efforts into developing a line of suitable products and applications that do not require high optical and transparency qualities. We call upon our customers to experiment with this product line and join us in venturing into markets and ideas for implementing these recycled products and promoting a circular economy for the benefit of our planet.