CHEMICAL RECYCLING

Chemical recycling refers to processes that turn plastic polymers back into individual monomers, allowing post-consumer plastic materials to be reused

TARGET USERS: Industry, Government

KEY CONSIDERATIONS: Chemical recycling returns plastic to the chemical building blocks that make up the material, while avoiding the burning of plastics.

    MORE INFORMATION: https://sustainablepackaging.org/essentials-of-chemical-recycling/


    Collections: BEST PRACTICES, RECYCLING


    THE PROBLEM

    Traditional physical or mechanical recycling typically grinds down plastic into smaller parts that are then mixed and molded back together to create lower grade plastic products. However, this process is only used for recovered high-value plastics, like those in milk jugs or water bottles. Because soft plastic, like chip bags and chocolate wrappers, do not have a financial value and are difficult to recycle using traditional methods, these plastics are often landfilled, burned or leaked into nature. 

     

    THE SOLUTION

    Chemical recycling refers to processes that turn plastic polymers back into individual monomers, allowing materials to be reused in a variety of ways. In these processes, the chemical building blocks that make-up the recycled plastic are recovered. These fundamental building blocks can in some cases be re-polymerized endlessly, giving them the qualities of brand-new, or virgin, resin. The transformation can occur through a variety of processes, all of which avoid combustion, or burning, of plastics.

    Chemical recycling allows us to recycle plastics for which there are otherwise no recycling solutions for. It also helps manufacturers continue to push the boundaries of how, and where, recycled plastics can be used. Chemical recycling has long been used for nylons, and the industry is working to make it possible for other resin types.

     

    CASE STUDY EXAMPLES

    CreaSolv®
    Unilever's CreaSolv® Process has been adapted from a method used to separate brominated flame retardants from waste electrical and electronic equipment polymers. During this process, plastic is recovered from a sachet and the plastic is then used to create new sachets for Unilever products. The solvent-based CreaSolv® Process effectively removes contaminants and additives that reduce the quality of the recycled plastic produced by conventional recycling processes. This means that a wide variety of very pure plastics can be recovered even if they are initially present in mixed plastic waste. The high quality of the recycled plastics enables their reutilization to manufacture plastic products. See https://www.creacycle.de/en/the-process.html for more information. 

    Ioniqa
    Ioniqa, a clean-tech spinoff from the Eindhoven University of Technology (NL), specializes in creating value out of PET waste by using proprietary circular technology, transforming all types and colors of PET waste into valuable resources of ‘virgin quality’ new PET. 

    The feedstock for Ioniqa’s process is based on low-end feedstock, which represents  90% of what currently ends up in incinerators, landfills and oceans. The plastic, also known as a polymer, is submerged in a solution, such as water or glycol, and the molecular structure of the polymer, which consists of identical units (the monomers), slowly start to dissolve, producing new, clear PET bottles that are food safe.

    Ioniqa built its first PET plastic up-cycling factory in The Netherlands, with operations beginning in Summer 2019. Once the technology has been proven in Ioniqa’s 10k ton plant, this so called ‘blue print’ will be the basis to start selling licenses worldwide for the production of monomers on an estimated 50k ton scale.

    Visit https://plasticsmartcities.org/products/ioniqa?_pos=1&_sid=3c4281913&_ss=r to learn more. 

    Shaw Industries Group
    The Shaw Industries Group uses chemical recycling for nylon and polyester fiber in carpets, investing more than $20 million to convert products that were once seen as waste into valuable resources. They reclaimed and recycled more than 800 million pounds of carpet from 2006 to 2015. See https://shawinc.com/Newsroom/Press-Releases/Shaw-Carpet-Recycling-Facility-Successfully-Proces/ for more information. 

    Resinate Materials Group 
    The Resinate Materials Group collects chemicals from plastic materials and works to promote the practical and economical value of chemically recycled plastics. The company has found several high-value applications for the chemicals harvested from recycled medical plastics. It uses certain types of recycled packaging to create coatings, adhesives and sealants. See http://www.recyclingtoday.com/article/petg-medical-packaging-recycling/ for more information. 

    Patagonia
    Patagonia, an outdoor clothing brand, chemically recycles non-wearable Capilene® polyester and fleece products. Today, the brand features a collection of products made completely from recycled materials. Patagonia’s chemical recycling process uses 76% less energy than the process used to make new polyester. See https://www.patagonia.com/stories/closing-the-loop-a-report-on-patagonias-common-threads-garment-recycling-program/story-19961.html for more information. 

     

    ALTERNATIVE SOLUTIONS

    Alternatives to chemical recycling include mechanical recycling and energy recovery. Mechanical recycling is the processing of plastic waste into secondary raw material or products without significantly changing the chemical structure of the material. Visit https://plasticsmartcities.org/products/mechanical-recycling?_pos=1&_sid=634e931fc&_ss=r to learn more.

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