Recycling Composites: Doing the hard yards
Most recycling materials are simple and some are just plain difficult. Cardboard, paper, plastic, tin and glass are easy to recycle - just put them in a bag and away they go. Other materials including ewaste, tyres and laminated products are more complicated. That is why they tend to hang around in ever growing piles. There is good reason for this.
A fundamental reason for the difficult recyclables is that they are made up of several materials which have been bonded chemically or through heat or another process. Separating the materials therefore becomes more difficult and costly. Tyres are a good example.
Almost all tyres contain steel and a number of different rubber compounds which are bonded together. They have to be tough to withstand the roads and it is that toughness which makes them difficult to deconstruct. There are literally tyre mountains in countries worldwide. Our government launched an initiative a few years ago but unfortunately picked the wrong partner and the company is in liquidation. The idea was good, collect all the tyres and take them to several places for processing. Once the plan is back on track the tyres will be recycled. Rubber crumbs can be used for roads and surfaces, insulation and furniture and even fashion items.
An even bigger mountain is ewaste. Most of our stuff nowadays consists of plastic items containing electrical and computer circuitry. Very useful when it works but when it stops working it is difficult to repair and no one wants it. Most of the metals can be recovered but we lack the sophisticated plants which exist overseas. Fortunately there is an ewaste association representing its members https://ewasa.org/ .
This non profit organization was formed in 2008 and works with all levels of government and industry to contain damage to the environment. A major problem with ewaste recovery is the environmental damage caused by burning ewaste which releases toxic gases into the atmosphere. Ewasa is innovating projects to recover ewaste and has a list of its members, many of whom will collect ewaste. This is important for commerce in general, particularly organizations with ISO 14000 certifications.
Another difficult material is laminated wood and materials containing a mixture of wood and another material such as vinyl. Some of these are so well made that deconstructing them is almost impossible. As a result these materials are thrown away with the general waste. There are, however, solutions. Wood can be chipped and used in composting and worm farms provided the glue is non-toxic. Other materials can be recycled through community projects such as furniture manufacturers.
Provided there is sufficient volume and a sustainable supply Smart Waste can often find solutions. We are currently re-using tyres, and recycling some laminates and can always advise on ewaste.
Doing the hard yards is possible - it just requires some will power.