C-PlaNeT meets PolyCE: a European effort to increase recycling of electronic waste plastics

Blog post by Francesca Martelli

For the last day of Network Training Event number three, the Early-Stage Researchers (ESRs) had an early start with a crash course on Electronics and Electrical Equipment (EEE) and the deriving E-waste (or WEEE). Held by Gianni Vyncke from Ghent University and PolyCE, the course aimed to introduce the terminology and main concepts needed to understand the EEE industry and the recycling of WEEE. In fact, PolyCE (pronounced either “police” or “poly-C-E”) is a project funded by the European Commission “that has taken the challenge to transform the lifecycle of E-plastics materials into a more sustainable one” – as it is possible to read from their website. This project is based on a consortium of 20 expert organization covering the whole value chain of EEE plastics, composing a holistic perspective of the sector. As main objective, PolyCE aims to enhance the uptake of recycled plastics in electrical and electronical appliances.

The crash course was preliminary to the big event of the day: PolyCE workshop on “Design of EEE Products with Recycled Plastics”. About 300 participants from all over the world were expected to attend this open event.

Design plays a fundamental role in sustainability: according to Gianni Vyncke, 80% of the impact of an object is defined by its design. For this reason, PolyCE devoted a large effort in defining guidelines for designing EEE products from and for recycling. As a result, a book was published to collect and summarize the findings deriving from PolyCE’s four years of research, called Design For and From Recycling: Practical Guidelines for Designers. To highlight the importance of this outcome, Frans Timmermans – Vice-President of the European Commission and Executive Vice-President of the European Green Deal – attended the launch of the book during the workshop. Mr. Timmermans gave the audience an inspiring intervention summarizing the most important guidelines and recommendations from the European Commission (EC). The need for a deal among the different stages of the value chain to reach the recycling goals set by the EC was emphasized, with the main priority of keeping products in the loop for as long as possible.

In addition to presenting PolyCE results, the workshop served as a stage for many valuable speakers, including C-PlaNeT project leader prof. Kim Ragaert.

Among the goals of this workshop was to showcase successful examples of EEE products made from recycled plastics. They served as an example to illustrate several strategies to include recycled plastics in product design and encourage the participants to work for a change towards sustainability. The perspective was completed by talks given by recyclers and waste separators who had the opportunity to present best practices for circular product design. The knowledge of a product’s end-of-life treatment was pointed out as essential for effective “design for recycling”. During product design, keeping in mind how a product will be dismantled can help to solve some of the challenges that recyclers face nowadays. For example, fused multi-material components are very difficult to separate into mono-material streams, which a necessary step that precedes recycling. With this in mind, a product designer can chose an alternative to fused components. Better separation of the waste will result in more plastic waste suitable for recycling.

Once this insightful workshop came to conclusion, ESRs moved onto the closing session of this NTE. Two key takeaways were highlighted by prof. Kim Ragaert:

  • We need to be smarter when designing plastic objects, eliminating the unnecessary

  • Industry needs to be more responsive to solve sustainability problems.

A round of feedback from ESRs was received, defining the event as an intense experience, thought-provoking and mind-opener. The multi-faceted perspectives offered from the many speakers of this whole NTE were praised for their contribution to the development of critical thought on plastic products and plastic industry - which is ultimately the aim of the Network Training Events.

In the picture: Franz Timmermans, Vice-President of the European Commission and Executive Vice-President of the European Green Deal, holding a copy of PolyCE’s Practical Guidelines for Designers.