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With the imminent arrival of the WEEE directive affecting a wide range of electrical and electronic products, the degree to which a product can be recycled, is becoming an important issue in product development. 

Designing a product to easily recycled:

  • enables companies to generate the maximum value from their expired products
  • minimises the costs of producer responsibility
  • increases the likelihood of proper recycling for products
  • reduces the environmental affect of the product

There are a number of strategies which can be used to improve the recyclability of products:

  • always keep the number of materials used to a minimum as this reduces the level of separation that is required at the end of a product's life

  • if using a number of different materials, use the design stage to  consider how they can be easily separated:
    • the potential for recycling is directly related to the disassembly considerations made during the design of the product
    • issues such as layout, labelling and fixings will need to be considered

  • identify compatibility issues:
    • materials which are compatible with one another can be recycled together however, using one material is best for recycling
    • the ability to recycle is reduced by paint, flame retardants, EMI shields and other additives
    • When using steel bear in mind that:
      • impurities of copper, brass and tin are problematic in steel recycling
      • the recyclability of steel is affected by copper – so it is important that copper components are designed to be easily removed
      • galvanised steel is not a problem for the recycled steel quality but however, it has to be dealt with as dust emission.
    • When specifying plastics remember:
      • wherever possible, use only one type of plastic
      • or ensure that components made from different materials can be easily separated for recycling
      • plastics (polymers) are not normally recyclable if they are mixed
      • labels need to be compatible with the plastics they are attached to if the plastics are to be effectively recycled
      • contamination can be a problem when recycling plastics
      • contamination can occur if the following are used and should therefore be avoided:
        • dyes and pigments that are permanent in plastic
        • plastic caps and lids that are generally a different resin from the bottle or container they close
        • adhesives that can turn yellow when processed
        • download the compatibility table to identify appropriate combinations of plastics for the use in small parts such as labels (not applicable to component parts)


Plastics compatability table
    • when using glass bear in mind that:
      • clean glass and clean-hardened glass is recyclable when sorted
      • mixtures of glass can be problematic 
      • screen-printed and reflecting glass can not be recycled into first class glass, but down-cycled. 
      • prints and coatings make recycling more difficult
      • silicone and glue left on glass as well as printing with organic colours and coating with silver or aluminium make recycling more difficult
    • when specifying aluminium remember:
      • copper and tin can reduce the ability of aluminium to be recycled
      • aluminium does not degrade in quality when recycled
      • specify recycled aluminium where possible


  • to encourage and facilitate the recycling of plastics, parts should be marked with symbols that indicate what they are made of. For this purpose use in-mould identification symbols for plastic resins.
    • numbers and letters need to be at least 3mm and the triangle at least 1mm high e.g.>PP-T30-FR(52)< 
    • symbols must be easily accessible but not impair the function or product aesthetics
    • symbols can either be embossed or added by silk screening, pad printing or hot plating
    • markings on components in subassemblies should be visible when assembled
    • if not physically possible to mark, it is wise to record material type in project documentation 
    • download the in-mould identification symbols for plastics below.
In-mould identification symbols for plastics
  • be aware that some materials recycle more easily than others
    • natural materials such as wood and paper can be returned to nature
    • steel recycles easily - but its recyclability is dramatically reduced by copper, so it is important to ensure that any copper parts can be easily removed
    • thermoplastics recycle best, there are currently recycling facilities for the following  - PET, PVC, PS, HDPE, LDPE, PP

  • create material cycles by using recycled and recyclable materials