Fraunhofer researchers come top of the league in recycling plastics from electrical and electronic waste. A worldwide comparison was performed by the British non-profit organization WRAP (The Waste and Resources Action Programme). Computers, cell phones, television sets: Germany alone produces two million tonnes of electrical and electronic waste every year. One fifth of it is made up of plastics. However, until now only 5,000 of the 400,000 tonnes of waste plastic have been recycled – despite the fact that the European Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive calls for a quota of 75 percent. The patented and trademarked “CreaSolv®” process developed by the Fraunhofer Institute for Process Engineering and Packaging IVV in Freising together with CreaCycle GmbH of Grevenbroich actually achieves a recycling quota of 95 percent. Electrical and electronic waste contains a variegated mixture of different plastics, which makes it difficult to recycle. What is more, these plastics tend to be contaminated with heavy metals or brominated flame-retardants. The technology used until now has been unable to separate out these toxins. Fillers, stabilizers and pigments are also present, all of which are useful in the production of the appliances but present a problem when recycling them. The groundbreaking Fraunhofer technique allows even plastics containing highly toxic substances and pollutants to be re-used. The properties of recycled plastics recovered in this way are as good as new ones in all relevant areas. Dr. Andreas Mäurer, head of the plastics recycling department at the IVV, explains the stages of the process: “First of all, the appliances are broken up in a giant mill, then the metals and circuit boards are separated out. What that leaves us is a mixture of shredded plastics, fibers, wood, and foam. Recyclable polymers are removed from the scrap mixture with a particularly environment-friendly solvent. Insoluble contaminants and hazardous substances are set aside, as there is a market even for these in the chemical industry.” The British organization WRAP was seeking ways of removing brominated flame-retardants from the plastics contained in waste electrical and electronic equipment, for which there was no suitable method yet in existence, to support the British government’s waste avoidance strategy. The scientists at the IVV were successful in their quest. The end products have been very thoroughly cleaned, and were awarded top marks by WRAP. The British organization has expressed its interest in acquiring licenses in order to market the process in the United Kingdom.
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