Currently, only 10%-18% of all plastics are recycled, in part because not all types of plastic are easy to process. As explained in the brief, plastic materials are generally classified according to their chemical compositions as either thermoplastics, such as polyethylene terephthalate (PET), or thermosets, which consist of the major resin classes of isocyanates, unsaturated polyesters, formaldehydes, epoxies, and alkyds. These resins are widely used as strong, lightweight materials; but the presence of covalent intermolecular cross-links that makes thermoset materials so attractive is precisely what makes them so difficult to recycle.
The report looks at the current scenario along with forecasts for the recycling of thermoset and thermoplastic waste, comparing the volumes of each type of plastic that are being produced and percentages being recycled. With approximately 11% of plastic production volume worldwide consisting of thermosets, the development of new recycling solutions for these materials could potentially have a major impact on global efforts to reduce fossil-based plastic waste.
After outlining the current routes of thermoset recycling, the brief goes on to provide technology overviews of 9 commercially available thermoset material recycling solutions. Companies profiled are located in the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, and India and include several major chemical companies such as Dow Polyurethanes, BASF, and Covestro AG. The technologies profiled are categorized into polyurethane foam solutions, epoxy composite solutions, and difficult to recycle plastic solutions.
This Intelligence Brief concludes with an exclusive interview with Sudhin Datta, PhD, Consultant on Polymers and Retired Senior Research Associate at ExxonMobil Chemical. He explains that the most important classical thermosets that are recyclable are polyurethanes, epoxies, and silicones, while there are also materials that behave like thermosets in the recycling process, such as PVC, Teflon, and PEX. “There is a move to recycle or to reconstitute almost all the polyurethane foam insulation,” says Dr. Datta. “My sense is no more than 20% of the world’s production of polyurethane foam is actually recycled,” he adds.