Recycling waste domestic plastics may be much easier than is commonly thought, according to research at the National Physical Laboratory (NPL). Researchers have found that adding large amounts of particular sorts of "contamination" into a granulated plastic has very little effect upon the physical properties of the product once it is re-moulded back into another product. This could mean that products that are functional but not necessarily sterile or aesthetic can be made from recycled plastic, without the need to carry out the expensive sorting, cleaning and decontaminating processes.
The UK currently recycles only 7% of the 2.3million tonnes of waste plastics generated each year but is committed through the European Commission (EC) to increasing this to 15% by 2001. Currently most companies using recyclate are of the opinion that the materials need to be thoroughly sorted and decontaminated. Paul Tomlins from NPL says that the initial findings of the study show otherwise, "contrary to popular opinion, contaminants can have very little effect on many properties of plastics". Other research at the Consortium for Automotive Recycling (CARE) has shown that car bumpers can be produced using recycled contaminated materials with very little difference from the virgin ones.
The researchers admit that plastics that have been in contact with chemicals and strong odours may carry the effects of these contaminants into any products they are recycled into. As Paul Tomlins says, "Who would buy a car with air ducting made from waste fish crates?" Also, Paul suggests, with an improved plastics recycling infrastructure the number of products made from recycled material, such as fleece clothing and street furniture, could increase dramatically.