From waste plastics to industrial raw materials: A life cycle assessment of mechanical plastic recycling practice based on a real-world case study

Fu Gu, Jianfeng Guo, Wujie Zhang, Peter A. Summers, Philip Hall

Research output: Journal PublicationArticlepeer-review

299 Citations (Scopus)


Mechanical recycling of waste plastics is an environmental solution to the problem of waste plastic disposal, and has already become a common practice in industry. However, limited information can be found on either the industralised plastic recycling or the recycled materials, despite the use of recycled plastics has already extended to automobile production. This study investigates the life cycle environmental impacts of mechanical plastic recycling practice of a plastic recycling company in China. Waste plastics from various sources, such as agricultural wastes, plastic product manufacturers, collected solid plastic wastes and parts dismantled from waste electric and electronic equipments, are processed in three routes with products end up in different markets. The results of life cycle assessments show that the extrusion process has the largest environmental impacts, followed by the use of fillers and additives. Compared to production of virgin plastics and composites, the mechanical recycling is proved to be a superior alternative in most environmental aspects. Substituting virgin plastic composites with recycled plastic composites has achieved the highest environmental benefits, as virgin composite production has an impact almost 4 times higher that of the recycled composite production in each ReCiPe endpoint damage factor. Sensitivity analysis shows that the coverage of collecting network contribute affect little to overall environmental impact, and centralisation plays an important role in reducing overall environmental impacts. Among the fillers and additives, impact modifiers account for the most significant contributions to the environmental impacts of recycled composites. This study provides necessary information about the existing industrialised plastic recycling practice, and recommendations are given. Research implications are presented with the purpose to achieve higher substitution rate and lower environmental impact.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1192-1207
Number of pages16
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2017


  • Environmental impact
  • Life cycle assessment
  • Mechanical recycling
  • Polyethylene
  • Polypropylene
  • Substitution

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution


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