Too little plastic is recycled and reused, and the mountains of waste are growing worldwide. Standards such as the new DIN SPEC 91481 can pave the way for plastic waste to enter the circular economy. Whether as packaging in automotive engineering, for medical devices or in the expansion of renewable energies, plastic is and will remain an important material – despite the global waste problem. Plastic waste can be reduced – primarily through reuse and recycling. However, there is a problem here because high-quality recyclates, i.e. recycled plastics, are more expensive than virgin material and too little is still being recycled. This is mainly due to the lack of standards for recyclates and the lack of digitalization in the industry.

Classify waste and recyclates according to data quality – ensure better recycling

To increase the proportion of recycled plastic and its quality in the long term, a consortium of 19 organizations from research and industry has developed DIN SPEC 91481. The new standard describes specific requirements for the classification of recycled plastics and polyamide-based plastic waste according to data quality levels for use and (internet-based) trade. The document is aimed at the manufacturing and processing industry of polyamide recyclates and is intended to make it easier for them to trade in the products.

“DIN SPEC 91481 goes further than the current standards on the market in key respects: for the first time ever, it focuses on polyamide as a material, covers both waste and recyclates and opens the door to significantly more digitalization in the circular economy,” says Christian Schiller, founder and Managing Director of Cirplus, the company that initiated the development of the standard.

Standard creates clarity and comparability

By classifying recyclates according to the amount of data available for the material, so-called Data Quality Levels (DQL), the industry is provided with a standardized language – and a major barrier to using recyclates in commercial products is removed. The long-term goal is to establish a circular and digitalized plastics industry.

First digital product passport for recyclates

The new DIN SPEC also contains a concept for a digital product passport for plastic recyclates and waste. This digital solution creates transparency and makes the entire life cycle of the material traceable. Standardized data collection, storage and transfer make it possible to classify and compare waste and recyclates, which in turn facilitates their marketing and reuse. The aim is to stimulate investment and increase the demand for recyclates and the recycling rate – closing the loop for plastics.

“With the new standard, we want to increase the acceptance of polyamide recyclates on the market,” says Prof. Dr. Hans-Josef Endres, Managing Director of the IKK – Institute for Plastics and Recycling Management and head of the DIN-SPEC consortium. “In the long term, it should pave the way for a paradigm shift: Further standardization and the expansion of digital solutions will be crucial for a true circular plastics economy.”

The identification and labeling of recyclates is based on the methodology developed in DIN SPEC 91446 (published in December 2021), the world’s first standard for high-quality plastics recycling and digitization. It was adopted by the German Association of the Automotive Industry (VDA) at the beginning of 2023 as the basis for the use of recyclates in the automotive industry (VDA 284) and is currently being converted into a European standard. The new DIN SPEC 91481 is also set to become a European standard.

The following have contributed to DIN SPEC 91481: IKK – Institute for Plastics and Circular Economy, Leibniz Universität Hannover (LUH), Kunststoff, Institut Lüdenscheid, KIMW Prüf- und Analyse GmbH, cirplus GmbH, APK AG, BASF SE, Circularise B.V., ENNEATECH AG, GS PRO GmbH, HOFFMANN + VOSS GmbH, KOSTAL Automobil Elektrik GmbH & Co. KG, Otto von Guericke University Magdeburg, MKV GmbH Kunststoffgranulate, Remondis Recycling GmbH & Co. KG, Röchling Industrial SE & Co. KG, S1Seven GmbH, TecPart – Verband Technische Kunststoff-Produkte e. V., Ter Plastics Polymer Group, Chemnitz University of Technology, Vossloh Fastening Systems GmbH.

The standard is available for free download here.

Picture above: The new standard is intended to facilitate the use of recycled plastic. Photo: Pixabay/cocoparisienne

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