Recycling Plastic – Step by Step

All these electronic products that contain plastic – what happens to them when they reach the recycling station? Read more about the journey of plastic from WEEE to fresh, reusable feedstock – via sorting, fragmenting and separating.

Step 1.

Different kinds of electronics are collected in crates (as in this picture), or in certain cases in skips. When the containers are full, they are transported to one of our pre-treatment facilities. El-Kretsen has some 50,000 WEEE containers, all with their individual ID tags with EAN codes. In this way, we can trace the material as it travels from the collection point to the recycling facility.

Step 2.

The WEEE is tipped onto a sorting belt for an initial manual sorting. Hazardous waste like batteries and parts that contain oil, mercury, etc. are removed for separate treatment. Also removed for separate treatment are parts that contain small amounts of valuable materials, like circuit boards. The waste left on the belt is moved along for fragmentation, which means crushing the products into small pieces. The pieces are then sorted into material categories: metals, glass, plastic and other materials. After this, the plastic is transferred to be sorted separately.

Step 3.

First, the plastic is split into two categories using a wet process. The plastic chips are tipped into a water tank where almost 40 per cent of the chips sink. This is the plastic that contains brominated flame retardants. The chips containing no flame retardants are then put through a second, more refined, process for division into PP/PE, PS and ABS.

Step 4.

At this stage, the plastic is separated into different qualities through a wet, as well as a dry, process.

Step 5.

The end result are grains of what is now definable as raw material. The recycled plastic undergoes continuous quality checks to ensure that it does not contain a higher level of chemicals than is permitted by Swedish and international legislation (e.g. RoHS and Reach). This plastic has also been tested and quality-assured with respect to its ability to withstand blows, bending and pulling; its density, and its levels of cadmium, lead and chromium.

The plastic yielded by this process can be divided up into 30 percent PP/PE, 15 per cent PS, 35 per cent ABS and finally 20 per cent reject materials (as in laminates, rubber, plastic that has not been separated from other materials like wood, cloth, etc.).