A panel discussion on recycling was organised by pinfa, with Raquel Llorens Chiralt, AIMPLAS, Kathrin Lehmann, Evonik and Rudolf Pfaendner, Fraunhofer, chaired by Adrian Beard, President of pinfa.
The panellists noted that EU policy is strongly pushing towards obligations for polymer recycling, with mandatory objectives fixed for recycling rates in the Circular Economy Package: 65% sorting and recycling of municipal waste, 55% recycling of plastic packaging waste, zero landfill of potentially recyclable materials by 2030.
Brominated flame retardants (BFRs) are identified as a significant challenge to recycling, because of the obligation to separate out these materials.
Opportunities identified include
- potential for mechanical recycling of thermoplastics, including when containing PIN flame retardants
- possibility to downcycle to products with less demanding technical requirements: industries producing such lower value products are mostly today not operating in Europe, so this offers an opportunity to relocalise jobs into Europe
- increase the use of recycled polymers in new products. New composite materials can combine recycled materials (polymers or fibres) with new polymers.
- industry actions, such as the automobile CARE Initiative (objective recycling of 80% of cars)
Panellists and conference participants however pointed to challenges:
- need to considerably improve collection and sorting, to ensure supply of recyclable materials, including legislation to define who is responsible for organising and funding this (in particular for imported products)
- difficulty of recycling thermosets: need for chemical recycling
- need for research to ensure material quality and mechanical properties with repeated recycling
- an alternative to mechanical recycling is chemical recycling, where the polymer/compound is broken back down to chemical building blocks for chemical reprocessing, see for example the PSLoop industrial pilot plant https://polystyreneloop.org/
- currently over 2/3 of WEEE (electrical and electronic goods waste) leaves Europe, so preventing development of industrial scale recycling in Europe
- flame retardants used today should have positive environmental and toxicity profile in order to prevent issues with their presence in polymer recycling in the future
- a stable legal framework is needed to enable industrial investment in recycling and development of operational markets between recyclers and polymer users