While most plastics are capable of being recycled, the infrastructure for such recycling is far from being in place. While many early recycling efforts among consumers have met with cooperation, end results to date have not been promising.
Circle of recycling to create a die casting. Recycled cans are collected (a), cans are remelted with other aluminum scrap (b) to create ingots (c), ingots are used to create a die casting (center). Images Courtesy of © Norsk Hydro,© Alcoa, © NADCA.
With some exceptions in the case of plastic bottles and foam containers, the monetary incentive and basic infrastructure either to handle collected plastics and to reprocess it economically is lacking.
And there is as yet no substantial market for most of the durable plastic scrap. Existing recycling organizations continue to regard most plastics as they always have, as non-metallic material with little established value that must be separated out from profitable, reclaimable metal. For even the lower level of plastics applications, virgin resins remain significantly lower in cost than recycled plastics.
The plastics industry recognizes that it will be some time before a working infrastructure for plastics recycling and reprocessing is in place, particularly for injection-molded resins. The introduction of plastic composites, to approach the strength of cast metal, has caused still further recycling problems.
In Europe there has been action to subject reinforced engineering plastics to additional taxation, based on their incompatibility in the eventual recycling stream. While incineration has been curbed for reasons of air pollution, heat and flame-resistant plastics might further limit such disposal as an economic alternative.
The incompatibility problem in reclamation also occurs with the wide variety of non-reinforced engineering resins in use, as well as with plastic product combinations which join the properties of several plastic resins in a single product. Unlike plastics, a combination of several aluminum alloys made from different processes can be directly recycled. A component produced as a com¬bination aluminum die casting and aluminum extrusion can readily be remelted and reprocessed — as the two have been, separately, since nonferrous alloy recycling began.
As an alternative to injection-molded engineering thermoplastics, recyclable die cast metals offer the product designer the opportunity to respecify product components as precision die castings, often with newly realized cost savings and strength and performance advantages.
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