The ever-growing use of electronics and China's decision to close its import borders to scrap plastics are two factors driving the need for processors elsewhere to handle more black plastics commonly used in those products.
And those plastics, which were once often destined for landfill disposal because of the recycling challenges they represent, are no longer allowed to be buried in the European Union.
Christian Schickle is in sales for Hamos GmbH of Penzberg, Germany, a maker of electrostatic separation technologies. He said he has witnessed the growing interest in handling black plastics from recyclers.
While the movement in Europe is driven by Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment regulations, there are more forces at work in the trend.
"I think the thinking especially in North America is changing completely the last two years. In former years, it was very easy for customers to put the material to landfill or incineration. And nobody was really interested in color separation. Mostly the recyclers were focused on metal separation [from electronics], which was quite easy," he said.
"But, nowadays, the polymer separation becomes more and more important as the value grows up and also the prices for the polymers," he said.
Hamos markets an electrostatic separation system that charges different resins either with a positive or negative charge that then allows them to be sorted for reuse.
The company's EKS system focuses on ABS and polystyrene, two resins that account for about half of all plastics use in electronics. While those are the two resins most commonly used, Schickle said there are dozens more that also find their way into products.
With so many different plastics being used in electronics these days and their use in combination with other materials such as wood and metal, for example, the Hamos approach relies on an initial float-sink separation approach to help segregate the two main resin types.
From there, the ABS and PS are routed through the company's electrostatic approach that ultimately creates recyclate streams that are at least 98.5 percent pure.
Hariolf Jung is managing director at Hamos, and he points to National Sword, the Chinese crackdown on scrap imports, including plastics, as a key driver to advance separation in other parts of the world.
"I think there are two incidents. One is the closing of the Chinese border that no material from Europe or the U.S. or wherever can be imported to China results in the need to recycle in origin countries," he said. "The other is the value of this type of plastic is steadily increasing."
Black and dark plastics are always more common in electronics, Jung said. With a steady supply of the material available, combined with the value of the material, he said, "the payback of investment in that kind of recovery is within a short period."