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MBA Polymers: A circular economy for hard-to-recycle rigid plastics

A circular economy for hard-to-recycle rigid plastics

Jump to:
  • What we know
  • What we’re doing
  • What it’s worth

What we know

MBA Polymers (MBA) has delivered a boost to the UK’s circular economy by developing an innovative system to take mixed rigid plastics from end-of-life consumer goods such as vehicles and white goods and recycle them into high-quality, virgin-substitute plastics for use again by manufacturers.

MBA is part of EMR, a global metal and plastics recycling company, and its site at Worksop is among the most advanced plastic recycling facilities in the world. It can receive mixed, rigid plastics and accurately separate them into different types. They can then be recycled into new materials with properties very similar to those of virgin plastics for use in new products.

The capability to separate and recycle the different types of plastics has allowed MBA to start to collect rigid plastic waste directly from manufacturing and construction, in much the same way as waste metals are recycled.

The company processes – and supplies back to manufacturers – a range of durable, engineering plastics including recycled polypropene (rPP), polyethylene (rPE), polystyrene (rPS) and acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (rABS). Unlike some of the materials more commonly found in packaging, these materials were not commonly recycled in the UK.

How products are designed can strongly affect the amount of materials that cannot be recycled. For example, all plastics could be recycled, but if they do not appear in sufficient quantities, recycling them does not make economic sense. MBA focuses on the top 6 polymers found in the waste streams it receives, but this leaves a long tail of other polymers which can account for 30%-40% of the material it receives. More consistent product design could significantly enhance the efficiency and economics of rigid plastic recycling.

What we’re doing

At the Worksop site, a mixed plastic waste stream arrives from a business that recycles vehicles, construction materials, household items and white goods such as EMR. This material is then put through a series of shredders to create small fragments of plastic of a uniform size.

This material, being a waste product, is quite dirty but also contaminated by various materials such as steel, aluminium and copper but also rubber, wood, fabrics and stone. All these contaminants must be removed, and MBA uses more than 30 individual processes to clean up this valuable plastic.

The highly skilled team at Worksop then uses the firm’s innovative recycling technology to separate the different plastic types. These are then processed into industry-standard pellet form, ready for the next generation of cars, electronics and mobile phones.    

illustration of three birds in navy

What it’s worth

The upcoming Environment Bill reflects the need for significant changes in the systems of waste and recycling and the design of products for end of life. These include more producer responsibility; promoting recyclability, durability and repairability; and mandated minimum recycled content.

If we design our products right, there is no reason why durable plastics cannot be recycled many times and at scale. This benefits manufacturers as they are able to gain access to consistent, cost-effective materials for their new products. Additionally, as we transition from single use to reuse, this will increase waste and recycling challenges relating to durable items.

Recycling durable plastics reduces our dependence on oil, avoiding the production of nature-depleting virgin plastics and the emissions that this creates.


The prospect of creating a truly circular economy has driven every member of the team to develop one of the world’s most advanced plastic recycling systems. By delivering high-quality durable recycled plastics back to manufacturers, the work we’re doing today will have benefits for emissions reduction targets and improved biodiversity for years to come.

Paul Mayhew General Manager at MBA