Although considerable effort is still required before it merits a place on the podium, France is making progress every year in the recovery and recycling of plastic waste. In 2012, 62% of the 3.3 million tonnes of plastic collected post-consumption was recovered and 22.2% was recycled (compared with 60.9% and 21% in 2011). A leader in its field, Paprec Plastiques contributes to this growth by treating more than 250,000 tonnes of waste every year. But before we find out how plastic is recycled, we should look at where this material comes from and what tools are used in its recovery and transport to sorting and recycling centres.
WASTE COLLECTION FROM INDUSTRIAL COMPANIES
In France, miscellaneous off-cuts from manufacturing represent approximately 30% of recycled plastic waste and a significant proportion of Paprec Recyclage’s business. Whether as producers of plastics, first-stage processing companies or manufacturers specialising in another field but still generating peripheral products containing plastic, industrial companies allow the group to recover various materials, such as low- and high-density polypropylene, PVC (e.g. from window parts recovered from industrial joinery companies), polyamides (PA), PET or polypropylene (PP).
Although this is still clean material, i.e. not consumed and therefore not dirty, plastics recovered from businesses come in a variety of forms: unclassified waste recycled due to non-conformity, incorrectly made products, machine purges, films on reels or in other forms, injection cores (moulded material that remains in an injection press's input channel) and materials used in calibrating machines.
Prior to the waste collection itself, a commercial study allows plastics recovery to be organised according to the volume of recyclable waste produced, the volume-to-weight ratio, the scale of operations, the nature of the products and each customer's specific needs (all treated as special cases). As in all fields, but more particularly this one (which generates a very large number of different materials), the key word in plastics recovery is always adaptability.
The following tools are therefore used by industrial companies :
- Standard open lorries or Tautliners (curtain-sided vehicles facilitating loading of waste), whose capacity can vary between 15 and 30 m3, depending on the density of the material being stored. For example, these lorries can be used to recover plastic film spools or bulk materials.
- Wire cages for the recovery of small quantities of materials.
- Compactors (chambers with rams that compress the material), or bale presses (horizontal and vertical), which, where volumes are too large (like those in the pharmaceutical industry), allow the product to be compressed and production sites to be cleaned but which also reduce transport costs and the frequency of collections.
- Semi-trailers, all-steel construction or curtain-sided, with which Paprec can recover bulk materials or bales prepared by the customer.
Elsewhere, Paprec Techniques and Paprec Aspiration have been able to perfect computerised reporting and automated waste collection tools, among the most efficient currently available. Thus, filtration, suction and conveyor devices installed in production chains or remote management systems (which allow Paprec technicians to monitor the storage level in compactors remotely) increase the efficiency of plastics collections and the group's speed of response.
Once the initial waste sorting has been done, material tonnages are then checked by an operator, loaded onto a lorry and transported to a suitable recycling centre. The volumes treated are less than in the paper and board sector and so collection frequencies are reduced.
We should also note that, in a large number of cases, the group’s customers grind their manufacturing off-cuts themselves (using grinders next to presses) and sell the already packed surplus, choosing not to inject it back into the manufacturing cycle. Small manufacturers, on the other hand, like companies working with specialist or top-of-the-range products, rarely install internal recycling systems.
COLLECTIONS FROM MAJOR RETAILERS
Although plastic waste recovered from major retailers is not considered as top-quality material (even if not soiled in the strictest sense), we still talk of post-consumption plastic in this case. This mainly concerns over-wrapping films and/or covers used in the packing of various palletised products.
Once sorted, plastic waste is recovered in the same way as from industrial companies – in skips, compactors or bale presses, depending on the volumes generated – and is then re-directed to a plastic recycling or waste recovery site.
In some cases, or for some types of product, a plastic recycling company's sales unit, like Paprec’s (FCR), can set up a direct resale system in partnership with the customer. The recycling company is then responsible for checking that the waste meets a previously established specification and takes the unprocessed waste to the site of an industrial company specialising in the management of this specific type of waste.
COLLECTING FROM LOCAL AUTHORITIES
Growing in line with the selective collection process, the recovery of household plastic waste increases every year in France. In 2012, these materials amounted to little more than 10% of total household waste collected and 40% of post-consumption plastic waste.
In the same year, 6.73 billion recyclable PET bottles and other plastic containers were collected for plastic recycling, making these materials the main types of household plastic waste treated by companies in the sector.
Household waste recycling starts in pretty much the same way as that of paper and board: identified flows of materials (often placed in plastic collectors) are recovered by Paprec partner local authorities, taken in household waste skips to plastics storage of sorting centres, baled and then collected by recycling companies, which then identify the materials and transport them to factories specialising in waste treatment.
We can identify two principal flows of treated post-consumption plastic materials: the transparent flow (comprising, for example, carbonated drinks, mineral water and carbonated water bottles) and opaque bottles/containers (like milk or shampoo bottles).
The gradual extension of sorting instructions to all plastics (packaging films, bags, polyester trays, etc.) should however, increase the overall rate of household packaging recovery, while in the near future, recycling companies will be able to treat flexible and rigid packaging made of different materials.
It is worth noting that, although they only amount to 4% of post-consumption plastic waste, Paprec Group also recovers agricultural plastics (fleeces, polytunnel covers, etc.) to make recycled plastic.
HEAVY GOODS VEHICLES
Since 1994, Volvo Trucks has been the number-one supplier of lorries to Paprec Group, which is eager to maximise its efficiency (the breakdown rate for Volvo lorries is the lowest in the market) while reducing its environmental impact (95% recyclable, the 40-tonners chosen consume less than 30 litres per 100 km, which, on a weight-for-weight basis, is a sixth of that off an ordinary car).
With a maximum 25-tonne load capacity, heavy goods vehicles belonging to France's leading recycling company (using Tautliner semi-trailers and other vehicles capable of loading all types of Guima standard skip) are becoming more and more common on the roads in France as the group expands to a national scale. With variable power, the most efficient ones (750 hp Volvo FH16s) are given to the group’s best drivers, rewarded with Castors d'Or.
In the Paprec fleet today, 1000 lorries are fitted with global positioning technology and can therefore easily be identified and diverted to meet any urgent requirement. All Paprec skip lorries used in waste management also have trackers, helping to make sometimes long and complex rounds more efficient (for the largest sites) for vehicles used for the collection of plastic waste (unlike site vehicles, which often go from point A to point B).
A symbol of Paprec Recyclage's desire to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, the barge “Spirit of Future” takes twelve heavy goods vehicles off the Ile-de-France roads, and so saves one tonne of CO2, with every round trip it makes.
An efficient and ecological way of working for the future, river transport should soon be central to the collection of plastic waste and the recycling process. Also, Paprec intends to link, or has already linked, most of its plastic manufacturing sites to the main canal and river systems in France.
The plastic recycling cycle is a step-by-step process. Discover the different steps :
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