Latest developments in shredders for plastics recycling

Plastic shredding technology

The recycling of plastic is very topical throughout the industry at the moment, so much so that our MD Marcus Brew was recently interviewed by Plastics Recycling World about this very subject. However, if you missed the original write-up, you can catch up below…

What do you see as the main trends/influences in driving new developments at present in shredders and shredding technology for plastics recycling?

There was once a time when plastics recycling was a priority for only a select few – environmental pressure groups and organisations with a defined interest in the remanufacture of plastic materials.

Now – thanks to China’s refusal to take the UK’s ‘waste’, evolving single-use plastic legislation, and David Attenborough’s blue planet mission – it is of interest to the masses. And rightly so.

Whether plastic is being exported for overseas recycling or retained in the UK for reinsertion into the supply chain, a newfound demand for quality exists. Purity rates of 98% are now being sought as standard, which means there is no longer a place for contaminated plastics – especially if firms are to abide by the prioritised ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ principles of the waste hierarchy and use energy recovery as the final option before landfill.

Exactly which system is required for each plastics project, depends on the nature of the waste handling scenario at hand. Sometimes only a really simple processing line is needed. But more often than not, a homogenous shred is always sought (i.e. a defined, consistent output particle) for ease of onward recycling. Sometimes a basic granulator won’t do this job sufficiently.

What specific problems and applications require new solutions?

In many cases, firms are handling the same types of plastic ‘waste’ as they were previously, but – recognising that plastics recovery operations are energy intensive and margins can sometimes be small – they are seeking increasingly more efficient, low wear and easy to maintain machinery that can do the job smarter than it ever could before. By better protecting their bottom line, they can safeguard their own profitability, not just resource security and environmental compliance.

At the same time we are seeing new operators driving further innovation. Last Autumn, for example, Indigo Environmental commissioned an UNTHA QR1400 at the team’s Widnes site, to process wheelie bins and 205ltr drums. Capable of handling in excess of 500kg per hour, the machine transforms this often-tricky plastic ‘waste’ into a homogenous <50mm fraction for remanufacturing.

We’re seeing other complex materials being shredded to increase recycling recovery rates too. One client is using a large UNTHA RS100 four shaft shredder to size-reduce oversized material from its plant, whilst the shredder can also process specific materials including uPVC window frames for FE, non-FE and clean uPVC recovery, as well as Zorba (shredded mixed non-ferrous metals consisting primarily of aluminium generated by eddy-current separator or other segregation techniques). These materials would be difficult to segregate and extract for recycling if they remained ‘locked’ within window frames!

What are the main technical areas of interest at present and how are they being addressed?

Organisations are looking for technology that helps them achieve more – more throughputs and a better quality product, but with less machine wear, reduced maintenance efforts and low ongoing running costs. All of these criteria, and more, are possible, with considered engineering. Performance shouldn’t just be judged solely in terms of capacity any more – all of the peripheral topics matter too.

What are the latest products/systems you have developed to meet these needs?

We have worked directly with plastic recyclers worldwide to engineer high performance plastic shredding technology that satisfies real industry challenges, such as the UNTHA QR that I mentioned above.

Across the board, we’ve introduced a number of shredder features to aid performance – by design – including versatile cutting configurations for varied applications, low wear parts to minimise whole life costs, easy maintenance regimes for maximum uptime, and quick-change screens for defined fraction sizing.

More and more companies are asking us about turnkey solutions, complete with upstream and downstream equipment, not just shredders. This – we feel – is a sign of the trust they place in our brand, so we also try to help where we can. We’re also selling more service products than ever before too – spare and wear parts packages, service and maintenance agreements and even machine rebuilds, which shows the mutual commitment to investing in technology built to last long into the future.

Can you provide a brief description of the development(s)? – Product details/performance/ applications.

We’ve worked hard to engineer a range of shredding technology that is equipped to handle:

  • Plastic packaging & post-consumer waste
  • Plastic film and sheeting
  • Plastic (PET) bottles
  • Plastic barrels and IBC drums
  • Plastic lump
  • Mixed rigid plastics
  • Car bumpers and auto interior trim

In very simplistic terms, the following machines can help:

  • The QR shredder – next-generation, single shaft plastic shredding technology with simplicity at its heart, UNTHA’s latest innovation achieves impressive results with minimal effort including car bumpers and large drums
  • The compact RS shredder – Our RS30 or RS40 makes light work of plastic film and PET bottle shredding.
  • The heavy duty RS shredder – a mid-range four shaft shredder capable of handling bulkier and/or higher volumes of plastic wastes
  • The ultra-heavy duty RS shredder – this is the perfect machine to process oversized plastic wastes including uPVC window frames.

Do you have any interesting case studies on projects you have recently been involved with?

See above

What future developments are you looking to address?

Recognising that many start-up organisations are entering this space, we now offer UNTHA Finance to make the procurement of shredding technology even more affordable. Finance packages – inclusive of the service products I mentioned above – often prove popular with established firms too, who want to hold their capital back to invest in other projects. We predict this flexibility will prove key over the next 12 months.

This is a very fluid environment where shredded fraction specifications will continue to evolve, and operators will start to want to handle more plastics than ever before. That’s when proven yet flexible shredding technology is required and I think we fit that bill perfectly. We are also one of the most well known brands in the Waste to Energy shredding sector, so when all possible plastic recyclates have been extracted from the waste stream, they can be processed to produce alternative fuels.

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