Some materials – like metals in light fixtures – are better at recycling than others

Recyclate is a raw material that is sent to, and processed in a waste recycling plant or materials recovery facility which will be used to form new products.

The material is collected in various methods and delivered to a facility where it undergoes re-manufacturing so that it can be used in the production of new materials or products. For example, plastic bottles that are collected can be re-used and made into plastic pellets, a new product.

The quality of recyclates is recognized as one of the principal challenges that needs to be addressed for the success of a long-term vision of a green economy and achieving zero waste. Recyclate quality is generally referring to how much of the raw material is made up of target material compared to the amount of non-target material and other non-recyclable material. Only target material is likely to be recycled, so a higher amount of non-target and non-recyclable material will reduce the quantity of recycling product. A high proportion of non-target and non-recyclable material can make it more difficult for re-processors to achieve “high-quality” recycling. If the recyclate is of poor quality, it is more likely to end up being down-cycled or, in more extreme cases, sent to other recovery options or landfilled. For example, to facilitate the re-manufacturing of clear glass products there are tight restrictions for colored glass going into the re-melt process.

The quality of recyclate not only supports high-quality recycling, but it can also deliver significant environmental benefits by reducing, reusing and keeping products out of landfills. High-quality recycling can help support growth in the economy by maximizing the economic value of the waste material collected. Higher income levels from the sale of quality recyclates can return value which can be significant to local governments, households, and businesses. Pursuing high-quality recycling can also provide consumer and business confidence in the waste and resource management sector and may encourage investment in that sector.

There are many actions along the recycling supply chain that can influence and affect the material quality of recyclate. It begins with the waste producers who place non-target and non-recyclable wastes in recycling collection. This can affect the quality of final recyclate streams or require further efforts to discard those materials at later stages in the recycling process. The different collection systems can result in different levels of contamination. Depending on which materials are collected together, extra effort is required to sort this material back into separate streams and can significantly reduce the quality of the final product. Transportation and the compaction of materials can make it more difficult to separate material back into separate waste streams. Sorting facilities are not one hundred per cent effective in separating materials, despite improvements in technology and quality recyclate which can see a loss in recyclate quality. The storage of materials outside where the product can become wet can cause problems for re-processors. Reprocessing facilities may require further sorting steps to further reduce the amount of non-target and non-recyclable material. Each action along the recycling path plays a part in the quality of recyclate.