Why recycling for the cable industry is challenging

When it comes to recycling, today’s cable industry is having to integrate two different types of material.

A typical cable is primarily based on conductors and insulators. Conductors are usually based on high-conductivity metals such as copper, aluminum, and silver. These materials have endless scope to be recycled via the refusion process.

Finding all the possible ways

Cable industry circularity is already in place, primarily to manage cost reduction and also to avoid extracting new nonrenewable resources. The recovery of metals is the main by-product life of this process. But in the case of insulating materials such as polymers, there is a different story, and for many reasons. The recycling process itself presents the first bottleneck.

Thus far, cable recycling has been adequately managed. A full shredding is essential for the recovery of metals. Even though these metals are well selected, the insulating polymers inevitably are linked to possible metallic contamination. Such contamination can create short circuits, voltage breakdowns or other defects that are unacceptable for the cable industry. End-to-end mechanical recycling cannot therefore be considered for the cable sector. mechanical recycling.

In addition, some insulating polymers are crosslinked in order to increase their mechanical performance and their resistance to chemicals and to degradation and ageing. However, crosslinked polymers are not recyclable.

A further roadblock comes from legacy practice and new regulations. Some polymer additives, acceptable in the past, are not now anymore. The new legislation therefore prevents mechanical recycling. Decompounding or chemical recycling is the only way to extract these listed ingredients. However, chemical recycling for this purpose is nowhere near as cost-efficient as mechanical recycling. This is particularly the case for PVC and PVC plasticizers – coming from building applications where the product life spans decades.

The other point regarding regulation is linked to material choice. In the recent past, the CPR regulations excluded PVC from construction and the sector chose a halogen free and flame retarded route – embracing HFFR and LSZH materials which are brand new in their composition and not fit for mechanical recycling purpose.

So – are recycled insulation solutions for the cable sector doomed?

Not at all - but the task needs much creativity and attention paid to all upcoming possibilities and opportunities. Firstly, it’s clear that pure circularity in the cable sector cannot be met in the case of polymeric materials. However, the general emergence of recycled polymer feedstock is now very much a reality - mainly thanks to the growth in Europe of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR).

The push from EPR means that new recycled material formulations are now emerging for cable compounds, depending on feedstock: its availability, characteristics homogeneity, impurities. This means that some cable formulations – with recyclate - can be foreseen, especially since the secondary materials can be efficient and clean enough. Such possibilities can be extended beyond the polymer resin itself: other recycled additives or ingredients can be also be considered since today’s issues of circularity affect all materials and all sectors.

Benvic is a leading materials compounder who considers the current recycling era as a welcome challenge: to create more value by integrating recycling content and then to adapt and fine-tune those newly-created polymer compounds.

Finding all the possible ways to maximize these valuable resources from existing feedstocks, therefore, is one of Benvic’s key targets.

Benvic is therefore assessing all possible ways to bring valuable recycled content into today’s cable market.

The company’s presence at the upcoming Wire Expo in Düsseldorf, April 15-19th 2024 will see Benvic present its first wave of solutions for the industry.

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