Resource Efficiency in Plastics Processing
Part 4 - End-of-life - Minimising Outputs





The fourth in a series of Worksheets by Jonathan Churchman-Davies and Dr. Robin Kent for Envirowise on Resource Efficiency in the Plastics Industry.

UK Government Environment and Energy Helpline 0800 585 794

Destination shortages

In the 5-10 year horizon the key task will be minimising the outputs at the end of the products life. Disposal is becoming increasingly expensive for waste created at any stage of manufacture and this is particularly true for the end-of-life stage. The current trend in legislation, e.g. WEEE (for electronic equipment) and EOLV (for cars) is to both increase the cost of disposal and to allocate a large part of it to the original producer. The trend for the future is to make the producer responsible for end-of-life costs.
The issue is not simply one of resource depletion, it is also due shortages of destinations for the outputs. The drive for reductions in CO2 emissions is essentially a ‘destination shortage’ where the atmosphere cannot accept more CO2 without being degraded. This lack of external destinations is being internalised to the producer companies through legislation and taxation, e.g. landfill taxes, CO2 taxes and effluent taxes.

The key to sustaining profits and improving environmental performance at end-of-life is to appreciate why the product is no longer used and what happens to the product at this stage. It is then possible to make appropriate design changes to minimise both the costs and the environmental impacts. Part of the challenge with cleaner design is to improve the options at end-of-life.

The choices

At the end of its ‘first’ life, the product (or parts of it) can be re-used, remanufactured, recycled, disposed of in an incinerator (to recover energy) or disposed of to landfill. In the future, and perhaps even today, the further down the hierarchy the end-of-life option chosen is then the higher the cost.

In an environment where the ‘producer pays’ there is a need to improve control of the product during and after use to reduce costs, this can be achieved by:

‘Minimising the number of materials in a product will make it easier to recycle.’

BTexact Technologies

What happens now?

Designers need to find out what is happening to the products now to provide directions for the future. Examination of the current methods of disposal can reveal opportunities for increasing the product’s recycling potential and decreasing the end-of-life costs. Typical questions are:

Answering these questions will help to identify the existing options for product re-use, recycling or recovery. In the future these will need to be improved to minimise the total cost of the product and avoid end-of-life costs that were not accounted for in the ‘first’ cost of the product.

Making re-use, remanufacture and recycling easier

Designers need to consider the costs of the end-of-life stage of products now - if this is ignored then the eventual costs will be unduly high if legislation changes. Designers must:

Cleaner design in the future will not be easy but the alternative high end-of-life costs are even less acceptable.

The end-of-life cost hierarchy





Reducing the impact of disposal

The most common end-of-life option today (disposal) is destined to become the most costly option in the future. If there is no viable cost effective alternative to disposal then designers must attempt to reduce costs and the environmental impact of disposal.

Landfilling any product consumes limited landfill capacity and the cost of this is destined to rise. Depending on the material used, landfill can pose potential toxicity problems to land, watercourses and groundwater, e.g. through chlorinated solvents in landfill leachate. To reduce the cost of the landfill option, designers should:

Incineration with energy recovery provides an alternative ‘disposal’ option for some products and plastics are excellent for producing energy during incineration. They do, however, require good control systems to reduce harmful emissions.

Whatever options are chosen for the product end-of-life stage, it is certain that the costs will rise in the future and cleaner design offers a unique opportunity to minimise these costs at source.

The route map



  • Increases in regulations for disposal of products and emissions, e.g. WEEE, RoHS, Automotive End of Life (EOLV directive) and CFC regulations.
  • Increase in cost of disposal of products and emissions.
  • Market effects of product disposal costs impact on producers and increasingly on consumers, e.g. refrigerators and cars.
  • Rising emissions charges, e.g. Climate Change Levy and Landfill taxes to reflect reductions in disposal sites.
  • EMS will become an essential qualification for business continuity.
  • Improve resource efficiency and reduce resource usage to minimise effects of rising disposal costs.
  • Plan to actively manage tradeable resource credits as they are introduced, e.g. carbon trading, PRNs.
  • Formulate a ‘take-back’ strategy to deal with emerging product end-of-life requirements.



  • Monitor resource intensity and follow legislation as a tool for success, not as a minimum compliance requirement.
  • Change or modify accounting systems and verify resource intensity to enable resource credit trading.
  • Form customer and end user partnerships to enable ‘take-back’ strategy to be implemented when appropriate.
  • Minimising the inevitable effects of increasing disposal and end-of-life costs.
  • Environmental design and control will become an essential cost control and marketing tools.

More Information

Available free from the Environment and Energy Helpline (0800 585 794) or can be downloaded from this site.

'Resource Efficiency' Series.

The 'Resource Efficiency' series is designed to give plastics processors a route map to the future for the plastics industry. The series is:

Part 1: Resource Efficiency 
Part 2: Manufacturing - Targeting Efforts
Part 3: Use - Optimising Usage
Part 4: End-of-Life - Minimising Outputs
 (This Section) 
Part 5: Raw Materials - Minimising Inputs
Part 6: Distribution - The Essential Link


Download the complete series as an Adobe Acrobat file.


Last edited: 11/03/10

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