By Marco Capellini.
I often read articles or company communications where the difference between what is ‘potentially recyclable’ and what is ‘actually recycled’ is still not very clear.
The two concepts have a fundamental difference, which then manifests itself when measuring the circularity of a product, and consequently the results can be completely different. First of all, it must be made clear that a material or product that “potentially” can be recycled, is not necessarily then actually recycled. This happens because a number of variables related to product design come into play, in addition to the territorial context, collection system and treatment technologies that inevitably determine the possibility of recycling materials. Although it is essential that a material is recyclable, the real question to ask is “who recycles it?” There are several companies that make materials that are unique because of the very specific characteristics with which they are composed and claim that the material is recyclable but only within their own production process. Consequently, the users of this material communicate that their product is recyclable. To be realistic and in line with real market scenarios, one must at this point ask oneself what are the conditions, assurances, for the material to return to the manufacturing company once the product has reached the end of its life, especially if we think of international trade dynamics. This example is easily applicable to multiple products from different sectors. It often happens that a material that is ‘potentially recyclable’ and used for different types of products, is only in some cases actually recycled. It is often easy to misinterpret information on the end-of-life scenarios of a product, precisely because one does not have all the knowledge of the real state of the art. In order to try to have data that can provide the clearest and most truthful overview of the end-of-life management of products, we have been collecting and processing information from national and international reports, scientific studies, pilot projects, but above all, we are continuously visiting collection and treatment centres, in order to measure the recycling flows of the different types of products. These data, if continually updated, are a fundamental source to draw up a true and certifiable measurement of product circularity, as required by the EU Commission in the Sustainable Products Initiative. The ‘recycling rate’ of a product cannot be ‘potential’ but must be ‘real’.