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Recycled Plastics Testing and Certification

The UL Component Recognition program for recycled plastics evaluates plastic compounds that use post-consumer or post-industrial content for compliance to UL 746D, the Standard for Polymeric Materials, Fabricated Parts.

Two workers in a recycling facility stand next to moving conveyor belts.

Overview

The UL Component Recognition program for recycled plastics evaluates plastic compounds that use post-consumer or post-industrial content for compliance to UL 746D, the Standard for Polymeric Materials, Fabricated Parts. Compliance with the Recycled Plastics program per UL 746D is accomplished through rigorous testing resulting in the same level of acceptability as a virgin compound.

This testing makes it possible to assign to a recycled plastic the same ratings that a virgin resin can be assigned for the same product category, QMFZ2. This testing also allows for a recycled plastic to be substituted for a virgin plastic in end-use applications in compliance with UL 746C, the Standard for Polymeric Materials, Use in Electrical Equipment Evaluations and within the design limitations of the specific end-product standards.

Customers that meet UL’s requirements will be published on UL Product iQ™, including UL Prospector, and the plastic description can include the term recycled, e.g., acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) – recycled, furnished as pellets.

Certification process

The certification process for recycled plastics includes three parts: initial certification, quality assurance (QA) program, and Follow-Up Services.

The initial certification of multiple batches is tested for compliance to requirements described in UL 746D. There are two paths for evaluating a recycled plastic, and each defines the number of batches that are needed to evaluate consistency in the recycled plastics stream.

Path 1: Recycled plastics with consistent identification
  • This is typically for post-industrial regrinds that are traded between different companies and, as a result, traceability is compromised.
  • Three batches are required with the following properties tested:
    • IR – Infrared Analysis
    • TGA – Thermogravimetric Analysis
    • DSC – Differential Scanning Calorimetry
    • Flammability – The results of these tests are to be consistent per criteria in UL 746D
  • One batch is required for additional short-term properties, i.e., HAI, HWI, CTI, etc.
  • One batch is required for additional colors.
  • One batch is required to determine an Elevated Relative Thermal Index (RTI) through LTTA.
  • A generic RTI can be assigned based on a positive IR comparison to a generic plastic.
Path 2: Recycled plastics without consistent identification
  • This is typically for post-consumer plastics that have been used in consumer products that are considered waste. The plastic in these products is recovered and reprocessed to be reused again in consumer products.
  • Five batches are required with the following properties tested:
    • Flammability
    • Impact Strength
    • Tensile Strength
    • Heat Deflection Temperature
    • Dielectric Strength
    • Hot Wire Ignition (HWI) or Glow Wire Ignition (GWI)
  • One batch is required for infrared analysis (IR)
  • One batch is required for additional short-term properties, i.e., HAI, HWI, CTI, etc.
  • One batch is required for additional colors.
  • One batch is required to determine an RTI through LTTA.
  • A generic RTI can be assigned based on a positive IR comparison to a generic plastic

Customers are encouraged to contact UL to learn more about which path is required for their specific testing.

The quality assurance (QA) program involves establishing the traceability of plastic sources. Traceability is an important part of producing a high quality, safe, reliable recycled plastic, because this program helps ensure that the manufacturer is maintaining good control of their many plastic sources.

In order to complete UL Recognition, a recycled plastic manufacturer must have a registered quality management system that is compliant with International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 9001 or an equivalent internationally recognized standard.

In the QA program, a number of tests can be conducted as indicated in UL 746D; however, the following tests are required based on the flammability rating as indicated below:

UL 94 rating QA test programs
HB Impact plus one additional test from UL 746D, 10.4.4
V-2, VTM-2 or better Impact plus UL 94 flammability, or Impact plus two additional tests from UL 746D, 10.4.4

These tests must be conducted on an ongoing basis as deemed required by the quality management system. During follow-up inspection visits, the inspector will review records for compliance with these test methods.

Follow-Up Services (FUS) verify compliance with safety requirements through ongoing material assessments like regular manufacturing visits and sample selection with testing as the material is being produced on an ongoing basis.

Regrind versus post-industrial recycle content

Regrind as defined by UL 746D specifically refers to reclaimed scrap from molding, such as sprues or runners that are reused in-house at a molding facility. Regrind that fits this definition can be re-introduced into the molding hopper to comprise up to 25 percent where the rest of the 75 percent is comprised of the same virgin grade that was used to mold the parts where the regrind came from. It is also possible for this type of regrind to be considered a source of recycled plastics even if it does not match the basic definition. In other words, regrind that is collected and packaged for shipment to a different molder becomes a source of post-industrial recycled plastics. This occurs because the traceability of the regrind is compromised when it leaves the molder, and an evaluation is necessary to verify this regrind, or post-industrial recycled plastic, is consistent when molded by a different molder.

Recycled content validation

Although UL’s Component Recognition of recycled plastics program will help ensure that the material tested meets UL’s stringent safety performance requirements, it does not validate for the type of recycled content used or the percentage used; however, UL Environment can help with this validation. UL’s Environmental Claim Validation program will validate the post-consumer, preconsumer (post-industrial), or total recycled content of a product by means of auditing.

Benefits

This testing makes it possible to assign to a recycled plastic the same ratings that a virgin resin can be assigned for the same product category, QMFZ2. This testing also allows for a recycle plastic to be substituted for a virgin plastic in end-use applications in compliance with UL 746C, the Standard for Polymeric Materials, Use in Electrical Equipment Evaluations and within the design limitations of the specific end-product standards.

Customers that meet UL’s requirements will be published on UL Product iQ™, including UL Prospector, and the plastic description can include the term recycled, e.g., acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) – recycled, furnished as pellets.

Why UL

UL is a leading global provider for the production of test specimens, and testing and certification services for innovative plastics.

We have been testing plastics since 1941 and are proud to serve all of the world’s top plastics manufacturers. We work closely with plastic industry stakeholders to maintain and enhance existing UL Standards, establish new Standards, and develop certification and testing programs that address emerging technologies and product applications.

With expertise in safety science reaching back to 1894 and in-depth experience across numerous industries, UL is uniquely positioned to provide a complete view of how products function within a given system. This is particularly critical in the plastics and components industry, as interactions between substances, parts, systems and the environment in which they are expected to function can be the cause of a significant number of hazards and failures, which are rarely apparent when components are tested individually.

Our worldwide presence allows UL to provide local services with a global outlook and enables access to a network of experts in all of our customer’s target markets. We support our customers in their drive to protect public safety and brand value, mitigating their risk with quality assurance and supply chain compliance services. Our trustworthy reputation provides an important product differentiator in a crowded marketplace, communicating safety and quality to original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), purchasers and regulatory authorities.

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