Styrenics, Made for Recycling
In view of climate change, environmental pollution, population growth and the dependence on limited fossil resources, the transition from a linear economy to a closed-loop economy is both ecologically and economically necessary.
Currently, chemical recycling of plastics plays only a minor role. For example, in the year 2016, only 1.4 % of the plastic packaging wastes generated in Germany were chemically recycled, compared to 48.4% that were mechanically recycled . Therefore, plastics recycling are mostly understood as mechanical recycling. Thermoplastic materials can easily be molten and reprocessed at elevated temperatures. In theory, this enables a re-use of the polymer at the end-of-life of the plastics article, whether it is a single-use item such as a packaging or cup or a more durable good. Bringing back the polymer into the same or at least a similar application is the common understanding of a circular economy.
Unfortunately, reality looks different in many cases. Often it is forgotten that plastics are not simply polymers build from their monomers, but are complex mixtures of polymers and additives to fulfill the demanding requirements of specific applications. Especially when it comes to the recycling of post-consumer waste, the results are insufficient, even with high efforts on waste sorting and cleaning. Often, only a dark grey recyclate can be offered, that lacks mechanical and optical properties compared to virgin material. This is due to mixing of different polymer types and grades and the degradation of the polymer during its use phase and during reprocessing. A second recycling of recyclates is nearly impossible, and the dark colours might prevent an efficient sorting process. The consumption of fossil feedstock is reduced a little, but in the end, the incineration of the material and thus the emission of CO2 is inevitable. The recycling loop is not closed.
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Journal of Advances in Recycling & Waste Management