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Green Initiatives

Global Companies to Fight Plastic Crisis

| Editor: Ahlam Rais

Approximately 100 partners signed the founding act of the Circular Plastics Alliance in Brussels.
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Approximately 100 partners signed the founding act of the Circular Plastics Alliance in Brussels. (Source: Covestro)

Ineos Styrolution, Covestro and many other leading companies as well as associations such as the Circular Plastics Alliance and the Alliance to End Plastic Waste are undertaking massive initiatives to solve the ‘plastic’ issue which is a threat to our environment.

Frankfurt/Germany – Ineos Styrolution, one of the global leaders in styrenics, recently disclosed first results of the Resolve project. This project addresses research related to chemical recycling of polystyrene.

The Resolve project team now has proof of the concept of closed loop recycling. The process converts waste polystyrene back to pure styrene via a depolymerisation process, followed by a polymerisation process resulting in a quality identical to virgin polystyrene. Polystyrene is one of the very few polymers that can be converted back into its specific monomer. Technical properties such as its low ceiling temperature enable recycling under conditions that can be achieved in a twin-screw extruder. The results show that polystyrene is very well recyclable.

Fundamental questions covered in the Resolve project include the yield of styrenics in the chemical recycling process and the impact of non-styrenic waste contaminations. It turns out that the chemical recycling process for polystyrene is sensitive to PET contamination. On the other hand, it is hardly impacted by contamination with polyolefins of up to ten per cent.

These findings not only allow Ineos Styrolution to address the next step of the project – the pilot phase but also prepare the grounds for scaling the process for industrial use. It further allows to give guidance to waste sorters.

Norbert Niessner, Director Global R&D/ Intellectual Property at Ineos Styrolution, comments: “The Resolve project gives us an insight into chemical recycling. As a result, we can clearly say: Polystyrene is indeed made for recycling. Together with today’s progress in sorting technologies of post-consumer waste, I am confident that there is no longer a reason for polystyrene not to be recycled.”

The Resolve project is funded by the German Federal Ministry for Education, BMBF, and is jointly executed by Ineos Styrolution together with Neue Materialien Bayreuth as well as with two institutes of the University of Aachen (RWTH) – the Institute for Processing and Recycling (Institut für Aufbereitung und Recycling, I.A.R.) and the Institute of Plastics Processing (Institut für Kunststoffverarbeitung, IKV). It also receives contributions from Ineos Manufacturing Deutschland in Köln.

In addition to this, Covestro, together with numerous other organisations, wants to promote the recycling of plastics in Europe. To this end, approximately 100 partners recently signed the founding act of the Circular Plastics Alliance in Brussels. The alliance, which was set up by the European Commission, covers all areas of the value chain including manufacturers and processors of plastics, large retailers as well as disposal and recycling companies. The main objective of the alliance is to help ensure that by 2025, ten million tonnes of recycled plastics will be used each year in the European Union, in line with the EU Commission's plastics strategy.

The ceremony was attended by more than 350 participants, including Frans Timmermans as First Vice-President of the EU Commission and Elżbieta Bieńkowska , the Commissioner responsible, among other things, for the single market and industry.

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Promotion of the circular economy

“High-quality plastics are practically indispensable in our age for renewable energies, for example, in electronics and medical technology, for transport and construction. After they have been used, they must be recycled in the sense of closed-loop recycling and must thus be put to new uses,” explained Dr. Markus Steilemann, CEO of Covestro. “The transformation from linear to circular systems, however, can only be achieved with the support of many partners from different sectors. The foundation of the Circular Plastics Alliance is an important step in this direction. Europe can provide impetus here worldwide”.

As one of the world’s leading materials manufacturers, Covestro wants to help in the new alliance, among other things, to design plastics from the outset in such a way that they are ultimately easily recyclable. In addition, the company can contribute its high level of research competence and innovative strength - for example to promote the development of chemical recycling, i.e. the conversion of used plastic into its molecules. Covestro also wants to give impetus to making the collection and sorting of waste as efficient as possible. The alliance is committed to ensuring that plastic waste no longer ends up in the environment and landfills, but is properly recovered and re-used.

Covestro has already been an active member of the Alliance to End Plastic Waste, a worldwide network of companies dedicated to reducing waste in the aquatic environment, since early 2019. The initiative comprises nearly 40 companies from the chemical, plastics, consumer goods and waste management sectors. Over the next five years, these companies intend to provide around 1.5 billion dollars for the cleaning of rivers, the development of new recycling technologies and the sensitisation of society to plastic waste.

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