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Dealing with WEEE

As the recently enacted European Union WEEE (Waste from Electrical and Electronic Equipment) legislation continues to gain traction in the marketplace, electronics manufacturers will have to finance the end-of-life recycling and recovery costs of their products, and they may also find that the range of plastics used to create such products is likely to narrow, with grades standardized to ease with sorting and recycling.

Those are the conclusions reached by Lucia Castro Diaz, a research analyst with Frost & Sullivan (London) on the EU legislation mandating the collection and recycling of electronics waste. At this stage, the relatively wide range of resins used in the market makes the recycling process more difficult and expensive because of the necessary separation of waste prior to shredding. In addition to winnowing down the number of grades, Diaz believes the legislation could present an opportunity for polypropylene, given the relative ease the material can be modified to meet the mechanical and aesthetic needs of a variety of applications.

Alternatively, a resin like PVC, which is comparatively more difficult to recycle, may lose ground. Diaz says that neat resin, without fillers or additives, as well as crystalline polymers will likely be favored going forward. Molded-in color will also become more prevalent, given the difficulty of removing paint or finish coatings from uncolored resins.

Diaz believes some of the burden to develop recycling technologies that simplify the process and make it economical will fall to plastic producers. Efforts to create automated sorting, improve recycling machinery, and extract halogenated flame retardants will be imperative.

According to Diaz, plastics will continue to gain ground in the market, however, since product''s life cycles are becoming increasingly shorter, which makes long-term durability a nonissue.

Diaz also feels that resin companies that align their electrical and electronic resin portfolios around the legislation, and market any such effort to OEMs, could carve out a new niche in the changing sector. A full report on the matter entitled Impact of Electrical and Electronic Equipment Recycling Legislation on the Western European Plastics Markets is available from Frost & Sullivan.-Tony Deligio; [email protected]

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