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Five Golden Rules for Using Recycled Materials

There’s a steadily growing demand for more environmentally friendly products. Politicians are also calling for much higher quotas for the use of recycled material. So plastics processors are already facing fierce competition for sufficient quantities of high-quality recycled materials. It’s not just procurement that’s a challenge for manufacturers; processing the recycled material also calls for in-depth expertise. For the application to be successful, plastics processors should observe the following five golden rules.

Rule 1: Secure the best sources.

In the European Union, almost 23 percent of plastic packaging must be recyclable, according to the EU's Circular Economy Action Plan. By 2030, the quota will be raised to 55 percent – more than twice as high. Thus plastic producers must now step up their game and use more recyclates. The problem: There’s often not enough high-quality recycled material available due to decentralized market structures. This causes shortages of raw materials and price fluctuations. Processors should be very familiar with the recyclate market so that they can still find the right supply partner. In fact, they would have to carefully examine potential suppliers or even conduct extensive audits to ensure that the raw materials are actually processed in the desired quality and quantity. This approach is especially costly for small and medium-sized enterprises. The research isn’t just time-consuming - it also requires technical knowledge about the production of recycled materials. 

That’s why it’s advisable to work with a distribution partner who specializes in the procurement of prime and recycled material. Plastics distributors like Meraxis have access to a worldwide logistics and distribution network. Unlike pure recyclate manufacturers, who can only supply what they currently produce, Meraxis has a close network of audited supplier partners for high-quality regranulates and recompounds. "With us, customers are sure to receive recyclates in the quantities they need and at the best quality," says Marc Stachura, Director of Product Management at Meraxis. "At the same time, we also offer primeware. So there is an optimal material for every application in our portfolio. In addition, we can quickly offer suitable alternatives in the event of supply bottlenecks."

Rule 2: Pay attention to material properties.

When you’re processing secondary material, you need to make sure that the recyclates have a similar quality to the prime material that was used previously. For industrial mass production, it’s also important that the quality remains the same. However, because recyclates naturally differ from one another depending on their origin, different batches are homogenized. This means: They’re mixed so that large quantities of consistent quality are produced. "Precise testing and initial sampling are essential because recyclates from different origins are not comparable in terms of their properties," Stachura knows. This initial testing is a technical process for material characterization that precisely tests whether recyclates are suitable for the intended use. 


Rule 3: Develop the right formulation.

Every material development starts with the most detailed definition possible of the desired technical properties. The proportions of recyclates, primeware and other ingredients must be matched to each other in line with the application. This needs to be done because the requirements for the product differ depending on the application. Additives can be added as needed to improve the properties. Meraxis develops these kinds of formulations in its own materials research department. “Our development team ensures that the materials match our customers’ exact requirements,” explains Elmar Schröter, Executive Director Recycling & New Business Development at Meraxis. “For example, we can even recreate colors with nuances.” 

Rule 4: Select the appropriate production processes and machines.

It’s also important to match process technologies, tools and the right materials. The parameters on the machines - such as material throughputs, cycle times or processing temperatures - must be set individually for each material to prevent faulty production. This is especially true when recycled materials are used: Processors should use the most homogeneous raw material mass possible in production, so that it stays constant throughout the production process. Ideally, this means that only one basic adjustment needs to be made to the machine. 

To ensure an optimal product, Meraxis offers its customers comprehensive technical services as well as on-site support from its in-house application technology. “Our technical experts help with selecting the most efficient production processes and tools, and finally with setting individual parameters correctly to get the best possible result,” says Schröter. “If necessary, our technical team is on hand to offer advice if new machines and tools need to be purchased specifically for processing recycled materials.” 

Rule 5: Demonstrate sustainability. 

The interest in products that are as environmentally friendly as possible is enormous, especially among consumers. "The use of recycled materials has long been an additional sales and marketing argument," says Stachura. "That's why it may be advisable to indicate on the end product that recyclates were used. Recognized certificates such as EuCertPlast are suitable for this purpose." EuCertPlast is an EU-wide certification program that focuses on the traceability of plastic materials throughout the recycling process and supply chain. 

“Even though the use of recycled material has to be well thought out and requires comprehensive process engineering know-how, it’s worth it,” sums up Philipp Endres, Deputy CEO of Meraxis. “After all, this brings the plastics industry a big step closer to a closed-loop economy. That’s why we’re consistently working on enhancing conventional materials with recycling innovations.”

For more information about the Meraxis Group please visit: www.meraxis-group.com/en