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Scraps reused to reduce expenses, carbon footprint

Partnerships at different ends of the manufacturing chain are being formed to ensure quality reprocessed shards and fragments are employed. Lower outlay and sustainability are end results.

A few years ago, China suppliers incorporated recycled materials only to cut costs incurred when manufacturing low-end products. Some unscrupulous factories that offered really inexpensive goods even did so on the sly. Fast forward to today and there no longer is any shame in reusing waste material, as long as quality is not compromised. Not only does the practice reduce expenses, it also helps promote ecologically safe production.

Scraps reused to reduce expenses, carbon footprint
These saddle-stitched notebooks from Ningbo Wonbon have 100g recycled paper covers and 50 to 70g recycled paper inside pages.

Large companies are cooperating with plastic-injection factories, some of which have partnerships with professional recycling businesses that collect, select and process scraps for reuse. But suppliers do not just use all types of waste material. Many procure plastic, steel, aluminum and paper fragments from Japan, South Korea, the US and Russia as these contain fewer impurities than those available from small local processors. By adopting the imported versions, enterprises are able to save time spent in selecting scraps suitable for recycling and ensure stable quality.

While manufacturers may have varying procedures for securing waste material, it is generally the bigger suppliers that have such arrangements in place. Due to financial limitations, most small and midsize operations do not have access to the proper channels for quality recycling. For instance, advanced technology is required to ensure the stable performance of plastic, steel and aluminum scraps. The China Industrial Association of Power Sources said recently that only the major players in the lead-acid battery industry are able to secure approval from their local Industry and Commerce Bureau and Environmental Protection Agency to set up a recycling system.

There are SMEs that are reusing commodities for their finished products. But such makers are likely to be using inferior waste material and, consequently, releasing low-quality models.

Plastic

Plastic is one of the most commonly recycled materials regardless of the industry. PET bottles, for instance, can be reprocessed into plastic and fiber. Now, recycled plastic is being used for shower head, induction cooker, vacuum cleaner and hair dryer housings, slippers, lanyard hooks and lampshades. But while the practice helps reduce companies' carbon footprint, not all recycled plastic is the same.

For instance, PET is said to withstand countless reprocessing cycles. While this may be true, the performance becomes more and more compromised each time the resulting material is recycled. Highly processed plastic cannot be made transparent, has diminished luster, does not have evenly distributed thread, and may melt and drip during the firing process. Moreover, reusing plastic from finished goods that are not exposed to time and the elements perform better. Color intensity, product rigidity and malodor can be improved by employing the right proportion of additives during reprocessing.

Recycled plastic generally costs one-third less than its virgin counterpart. As of June 22, different types of virgin PP were at $1,448 to $1,794 per ton. Draw-benched transparent crushed PP is $1,397 to $1,470 per ton, while white-colored versions crushed with lithopone is $1,102 to $1,176. Crushed PP mottle, which can only be used for plastic injection and not draw benching, is $661 to $705.

Steel

Steel is also one of the most widely reprocessed materials as it can be used in a range of products. Scraps are easier to collect as well. As a result, recycled steel now contributes 8 percent to total global output of the metal. It already accounts for 50 and 40 percent of yield in the US and Japan alone.

In China, the use of recycled steel is gaining ground due partially to increasing iron ore costs. Data from My Steel indicated 63-grade iron ore stood at $177 per ton, including shipping, on April 30. This was $19 more than what it cost the previous month. Quotes have been falling in recent weeks, however, with 63-grade powdered iron ore from India down to between $150 and $152 per ton on July 5.

More than two-thirds of iron ore supply in the country is purchased overseas. In fact, imports were raised 42 percent in 2009 to meet the peak requirement of 628 million tons. Reprocessing a ton of steel, meanwhile, can produce 0.8 ton of recycled steel, saving 2 or 3 tons of iron ore in the process.

Additionally, incorporating recycled steel does not affect the performance of finished products. Metal furniture maker Ator Furniture Co. Ltd said its dining tables and chairs made with recycled steel meet requirements for daily normal use. Painting or chrome electroplating also makes them indistinguishable from models that employ virgin steel.

Aluminum

The cost to produce recycled aluminum is roughly 50 percent lower than that of processing the virgin metal. To yield a ton of aluminum, for instance, requires 6.1 tons of coal and 15,000kwh of electricity for electrolysis. In contrast, less than one-third of a ton of coal and 20kwh of electricity are needed for the same amount of recycled metal. Moreover, reprocessing aluminum saves 10.5 tons of water and 11 tons of solid material. Recycling just 1kg of the metal can even reduce as much as 11kg in carbon dioxide emissions.

Shanghai prices as of June 24 pegged aluminum waste, which contains 99.7 percent of the element, at $1,899 per ton while the 1,000x2,000x5mm board made from the virgin metal is at $2,161 per ton.

The low costs associated with producing and purchasing recycled aluminum has encouraged several businesses from different ends of the manufacturing chain to form partnerships with each other. An aluminum ingot manufacturer in Guangdong province's city of Foshan is now cooperating with more than 10 local extruders. The ingot factory purchases scraps from the latter to produce aluminum sticks, which are then sold back to the extruders. The recycling output now stands at 1,500 tons monthly.

Makers from the aluminum panel industry, however, are not so quick to adopt the reprocessed metal. Although they believe recycled aluminum will eventually dominate exports, many are still looking for suppliers that can ensure stable quality for the scraps and reprocessed metal.

This is because some types of recycled aluminum contain greater levels of impurity, and are made with a higher percentage of other forms of metal such as iron and lead. Such versions are less stable and are prone to breakage and losing their shape during processing.

Glass

At least 90 percent of glass dinnerware in China is now made with a percentage of recycled material. Shanghai Wutian Industries Co. Ltd mixes glass shards with quartz sand and sodium carbonate to make melting easier for blowing. In fact, incorporating 10 percent glass chips into the mix can generate 3 percent electricity savings because the melting process is faster. Further, using a ton of recycled glass can save 1.2 tons of raw materials, including quartz sand and sodium carbonate.

Xi'an Yongxing Glassware Fty, however, said glass cannot be made solely from reused shards. The greater the percentage of chips, the higher the probability that the finished product will have a greener tint and air bubbles. Frosted glass cannot be recycled as well as it contains ammonium hydrogen fluoride.

Paper

Many companies in the packaging and stationery industries are now adopting recycled paper as doing so helps save 5 to 10 percent in purchasing costs per ton. Reprocessing paper reduces the time, water and electricity spent on braising, steaming and washing. A ton of the salvaged material can produce 800kg of recycled paper and saves 1.2 tons of coal, 600kwh of electricity, 50 percent in water use and roughly 17 trees.

Some of the products that are now made with the material include corrugated, wrapping and writing paper, packaging boxes, and notebooks.

Recycled paper, however, does not have the same luster, smoothness, water resistance and whiteness of versions made solely from wood pulp. To address these disadvantages, additives have to be incorporated at different processing stages. This only enhances the whiteness and luster of the paper, however, and does nothing to improve smoothness and water resistance.




Note: This article "Scraps reused to reduce expenses, carbon footprint" was originally published by Global Sources, a leading business-to-business media company and a primary facilitator of trade with China manufacturers and India suppliers, providing essential sourcing information to volume buyers through our e-magazines, trade shows and industry research.

All price quotes in this report are in US dollars unless otherwise specified. FOB prices were provided by the companies interviewed only as reference prices at the time of interview and may have changed.

Disclaimer: All product images are provided by the companies interviewed and are for reference purposes only. Those product images featuring products with trademarks, brand names or logos are not intended for sale. We, our affiliates, and our affiliates' respective directors, officers, employees, representatives, agents or contractors, do not accept and will not have any responsibility or liability for product images (or any part thereof) which infringe on any intellectual property or other rights of a third party.

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