Data is Key to Profitable Plastics Recycling

Metals have been reused and recycled for centuries – some, arguably for millennia. Plastics, however, are much newer materials, and the reuse and recycling of plastics is newer still. For electronics OEMs, who have traditionally focused on reclaiming precious metals and components, this new push may be daunting, but soon it will be part of good business practice.

Plastics up. Metals down. New recycling challenges.

Product designers are finding exponentially more applications for plastic materials – replacing easier-to-recycle metals (as well as glass and plant fiber). Yet few have learned how to design products as circular economy solutions, in which parts and materials are purposefully selected for efficient post-customer collection and leveraged for additional applications needing the same parts and materials.

Society benefits from the reuse and recycling of plastics, which stems the pollution of oceans and helps curb our burgeoning landfills.

Plastics now funneled to metals recyclers

With plastics flooding the waste stream, traditional recyclers of metals are now receiving plastics as well. They are new to identifying, processing, and finding markets for plastics.

This month I co-led an ISRI workshop on measuring and maximizing the business and environmental benefits of plastics recycling. The workshop was attended by numerous metals recyclers who shared that they view themselves as being at the beginning of a learning curve, and need direction and coaching to ramp up their plastics-recycling efforts efficiency and profitably.

Data to the Rescue

In order to recycle plastics profitably, data is needed for optimizing both financial and environmental outcomes. As presented by workshop presenter Dr. Ramesh Srinivasan, CEO of Eco-Catalyst, this data includes raw material prices, transportation distances, freight and labor costs, sale prices, facility overheads, Selling, General & Administrative Expense (SG&A) overheads, and commodity prices. Data collection can seem overwhelming, but approaching it systematically and seeing that data as a powerful tool to enhance your organization's profitability can make all the difference.

In a compelling case study, Cope Plastics environmental manager Andy Fergurson walked us through a successful pilot study, in which Cope used Eco-Catalyst's Smart EOL software to create a profitable, sustainable plastics recycling program. Fergurson reported, “Now we can quickly identify the best opportunities. My team can make the same decisions I would make without having made the same mistakes. Overall profit can increase without throughput increasing. Our plastics program is sustainable and it is easier to show that to executives, (especially helpful when trying to allocate resources).”

Unexpected benefits from the data

Fergurson also listed unexpected bonuses of having new visibility to the data: increased efficiency, a better understanding of environmental impacts, better marketability, higher employee morale, and new opportunities and partnerships for the company.

Plastic parts designed for circular economy & profitable end of life

The time is ripe to design all products and services for the circular economy, and ramp up our efforts in plastics recycling. With the right data and analysis ready and waiting at our fingertips, the future is looking bright (and profitable).

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