Guide

Design efficient electrical and electronic equipment

Materials recycling design in electrical and electronic equipment

By considering the materials used in your electrical and electronic products, you could improve their recyclability and overall environmental impact.

Plastics

Though a large proportion of electrical and electronic equipment is made out of plastic to reduce manufacturing costs, current recycling technology cannot return the plastic to its original performance specification. To help with recycling, you should use as few types of plastic as possible.

Discussions with materials suppliers should help you to decide whether to use a specialist plastic or a commodity plastic. Commodity plastics are generally cheaper and may provide greater security of supply compared to specialist plastics.

You should also consider the design of the injection moulding process. Some design features and process steps can degrade polymers and reduce the quality of the plastic for recycling.

In some cases, there may be opportunities to use both virgin polymer and the same type of recycled polymer for different parts of the product. This will not affect recycling value at the product's end of life and may offer cost savings.

To help the recycling process at the product's end of life, you should mark plastic polymers with the material category and date of manufacture. Flexible tooling using tool inserts will allow you to change in-mould marking if the polymer material is changed.

Metals

Reverting to using metal instead of plastics would require you to improve your product designs to make components and sub-assemblies thinner, smaller, lighter or less numerous. Using heavier metals may have impacts on transport and fuel efficiency when your products are distributed.

Metal also has higher embedded carbon than other materials, so you should remember this if your business is looking to reduce its carbon footprint. If you use metals such as aluminium with recycled content, this can bring the embedded carbon down significantly.

New metal alloys are being developed which may offer additional end-of-life benefits compared to plastics.

Labelling, adhesives and coatings

You should avoid labels and adhesives unless they are compatible with the moulding polymer for recycling.

You can mould information on to a product using a different surface finish to increase visibility. Consider ultrasonic welding, heat staking and spin welding, hot-plate or hot-gas welding where an adhesive with recycling compatibility is not available.

You should make sure your products are marked with a crossed-out wheeled bin symbol - see waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE).