Managing hazardous additives in WEEE plastic from the Indian informal sector
Authors: Arthur Haarman (Empa), Michael Gasser (Empa)
Publication date: 2016
Plastics from waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) often contain potentially toxic substances such as brominated flame retardants and heavy metals. The recycling of such hazardous plastic fractions is severely restricted by international regulations such as the Stockholm Convention. In India, most plastic recycling is done by informal businesses, which are not limited by regulations and therefore recycle as much material as possible, including hazardous fractions. The informal sector needs to be given the technical capability and appropriate incentives for removing hazardous fractions from secondary material cycles – to clean the loop.
In this context, this study aims at answering the following questions: Which hazardous additives limit the recycling of high-quality plastics from WEEE? How can plastics containing these additives be identified and segregated in informal recycling units such as found in India? These questions were answered through a combination of desk research, visits to Swiss WEEE recycling facilities, field research in Indian informal plastic recycling units, and material sampling and testing.
Results show that some simple identification and segregation methods, such as density separation, are not only readily applicable in informal settings but also highly efficient to sort plastics containing hazardous additives such as brominated flame retardants.