Is Our Environmental Future Simply Down to Design?
Technology that enables the separation of one or more materials from another has been essential even before the industrial revolution. The more recent global necessity for the reclamation, reuse and recycling of materials has driven equipment developers to develop a wide range of separation systems to separate and purify materials such as metal, plastic and glass. Separation is achieved using magnetics, infrared, metal detecting coils and X-Ray.
However, irrespective of the ability of the separation technology, successful separation is governed by the proportion of liberation. This means that materials that need to be separated are free from each other.
Liberation is an age-old problem and one originally encountered in the mining and mineral processing industry. An ore would be mined and then crushed to liberate valuable minerals. Separation would then occur using magnetic separation, density tables, screens and other such technology, and the ability to separate and produce clean, valuable ore would dictate the viability and life of the mining operation.
The recycling industry has adopted very similar technology, with a focus on segregation, liberation, and separation. This applies to all sectors of recycling irrespective of the material being processed. The complexity of the recycling process is dictated by the material, and therein lies the problem.
Separation technology will continue to evolve. There are new systems to magnetically separation stainless steel and PCBs and sensor-based sorters can be tuned to achieve incredible levels of separation. Even robotics technology is entering the separation field.
Nevertheless, near 100% separation is not possible without good liberation and, although the technology for crushing, shredding and granulating is excellent, the recycling industry needs some new thinking from the designers of the primary products.
Too often, products are designed with different materials for no other reason that aesthetics. Packaging is a prime example and although there have been advances made (eg not having metal tops of plastic bottles), there needs to be a complete rethink with a focus on the recyclability of a product. The eventual recyclability of a product should bear more weight in the design criteria of a product than the appearance. Why use several different types of plastic in one packaging product when one will suffice?
Clever and forward thinking product design will make separation at all stages of the process easier and improve recycling rates. This is an manufacturing industry issue and action is needed before the Government decides to introduce complex and unworkable legislation. Designers should work closely with the recycling industry to understand what materials can be separated and how. Improved designs will potentially reduce the cost of processing, increase the viability of the recycling operations, and have a positive impact on our environment.
Implementing such fundamental changes to the way products are designed will enable countries to reach the EU recycling target of 65% before 2030. However, whether product designers list recyclability as one of the primary specifications remains questionable.
For further information on the range of metal separation equipment available from Bunting Magnetics and Master Magnets, please contact us on: