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Blog September 2021 Updated July 2023

Why quality matters for plastics recyclers and how to improve it

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Conor Dowd

AMCS Global Head of Marketing

Worldwide, more and more businesses are seeking out high-quality recycled plastic content for their products.

For plastic recyclers, there are huge opportunities to provide recycled polymers and quality will be the factor that makes them stand out from the competition.

Quality matters because:

  • Many countries are introducing new taxes to encourage use of more recycled plastic content or ensure plastics are fully recyclable
  • There is rapidly growing competition from chemical recyclers
  • Many export markets are introducing higher standards for high-quality product
  • Companies want to source more content to show environmental sustainability in action to customers.

Already, major manufacturers such as Coca-Cola, Nestlé, Unilever and others are regularly increasing the amount of recycled polymers they use. But businesses like these also want high-quality recycled plastics that are a like-for-like replacement for virgin materials.

With the measures mentioned above, such as taxes and legislation, demand for high-quality recycled polymers will get stronger, and the plastic recycling businesses that sell a high-quality product will have more loyal customers.

Plastic Taxes

Increasingly, plastic content taxes are being investigated by governments as a way to stimulate demand for recycled content.

  • California will vote next year on a 1 cent tax on single-use plastics, and US Senator Sheldon Whitehouse has introduced the REDUCE Act into Congress that would levy a tax of 20 cents per pound on virgin plastics in single-use products
  • The EU introduced a €0.80 per kilogram levy on non-recyclable plastics. Inevitably, this will encourage more use of recycled content and packaging that is designed to be recycled.
  • The UK will bring in a Plastic Packaging Tax in 2022 that will tax companies that do not include a minimum of 30% recycled content in their packaging

Chemical Recycling

Conventional plastic recycling consists primarily of mechanical processes such as washing, granulating etc, whereas chemical recycling is now emerging as a viable alternative particularly for low-grade plastics.

Chemical and petrochemical companies such as BASF, Dow, Ineos, Sabic, BP and LyondellBasell are all investing in this technology.

Essentially, chemical recycling uses pyrolysis or other similar technologies to break down polymers (often mixed polymers) into their chemical building blocks, so that they can then be used as feedstock for new virgin-like materials.

Major food and drink manufacturers such as Mondelēz, Nestlé and Unilever also see this as a way of securing very high-quality food- and drink-grade recycled content.

If you are a plastic recycler, chemical recycling may be providing high-quality material in competition to your products. The advantage you have is your process is currently proven and cheaper, but you have to match it for quality.

Export markets

China is the largest plastics manufacturer in the world. But it also has tough standards on importing recycled pellets. They cannot be mixed, but must be separated by color, by size and by packaging type and have virtually no contamination. We expect other countries to follow this trend.

On top of this, tightening Basel Convention rules and many Asian countries banning imports of recycled plastics, collecting for high quality enables you to service the markets such as Turkey and Malaysia that remain open. Even with these two, import standards have got tougher.

Environmental Sustainability

Companies are being incentivised to use more recycled content as shown above. But many want to do it because it is the right thing to do and because their customers want them to use more recycled material.

Coca-Cola now uses 100% rPET in some of its products in US and some European countries. Unilever wants to use 25% post-consumer recycled plastic by 2025. P&G has said 300 million bottles in its European cleaning brands will be converted to 100% recycled or partially recycled plastic.

These companies need high quality recycled polymer to meet their goals.

How can AMCS help you improve the quality of your plastics?

  • Start with a good input and you’ll most likely get a good output – using AMCS Mobile helps you to optimise your collections to ensure you get the best quality material from your suppliers
  • Use AMCS Platform with the tools to inspect loads, record granular details (photographs, weights, composition etc) and give you clear visibility of each load
  • Our sophisticated AMCS Mobile Yard Management app means you can accurately inspect and grade each load, so you only receive and pay for the material you want. The same app will allow you to take images

AMCS is the market leader in the provision of automation solutions to over 2,750 waste and recycling companies worldwide.

The AMCS Platform is a unique SaaS-based enterprise-grade software solution designed to automate all aspects of a recycling operation including logistics, scale operations, contract management, invoicing, quality management, production, inventory tracking, demand planning and finance.

We understand the challenges and requirements of the plastics recycling industry and have the proven solution, industry expertise and advanced technology to take the automation of your operations to the next level.

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