Making reusable plastics a reality
Making recycling the most obvious solution
The world we will inhabit tomorrow is going to look much different than it did yesteryear. A more profound realization of how we must treat each other and our planet is dawning and, here, industry plays an important role. Among many challenges, the world needs to reduce plastic waste. That means doing a better job of recycling it, but recycling can be complex and expensive… unless the right additives are injected in the mix.
Every year, humans discard 1 to 2 million tons of plastic into the oceans. That obviously needs to stop, not only because we are poisoning the seas and killing countless marine life, but also because the irony of it all is that we end up eating part of all that plastic ourselves. A 2019 WWF study found that we absorb up to one credit card worth of plastic (5 grams) every week… Oh, and the global production of plastics is expected to double by 2050.
The vast majority of these discarded plastics are single-use, low-value materials, the straws and plastic bags that are being targeted by increasingly stringent regulations around the world. However, plastic encompasses much more than these single-use articles. More and more attention is being placed on extending the lifetime (and reuse) of high-value, durable plastics as well. These are the types of materials for which Solvay offers solutions to overcome the challenges posed by their recycling.
Whatever their category, currently lots of plastics end up being incinerated. And though that’s an improvement on washing into the ocean, there is still the issue of greenhouse gases and other toxic emissions that this causes. Therefore, there is a wide consensus today among regulators, industries and society as a whole to find new solutions to address the problem. Concerning high-value plastics, the most obvious solution is reuse: instead of letting them accumulate in landfills and rivers or burning them, let’s recycle!
The service life of stabilized plastics increases from a few years to a couple of decades with our polymer additives.
The challenge with plastic recycling
But that’s easier said than done. Collecting, sorting and cleaning plastic before it can be recycled mechanically is an extremely complex task requiring heavy investments in infrastructure. In many countries, making recycling a viable, competitive option versus virgin plastic is nearly impossible. If that’s not enough, different types of polyolefins (polypropylene and polyethylene) are often used in multiple layers, resulting in blends of various types of plastics that are close to impossible to recycle unless done chemically.
In short, developing commercially viable applications for recycled polyolefins is extremely challenging, and many companies are attempting to solve this equation. Luckily, solutions exist. A highly efficient one is to be found in additive technologies: by minimizing the degradation of recycled polymers, additives make the recycling and repurposing of plastics much more feasible. And upstream in the process, additives also improve the quality of the virgin resin, making the polymer more durable and fit for recycling purposes. All this, in addition to limiting waste, can in turn lead to a more circular form of economy, creating a virtuous cycle where a myriad of commercially viable and useful products could be produced.
We want to collaborate across the value chain, go beyond our own sustainability goals and be a leader in innovative plastics of the future, thanks to a truly holistic approach.
The power of polymer stabilizers
Solvay’s stabilizers -- namely the CYASORB® CYXTRA® , CYASORB CYNERGY SOLUTIONS® and CYANOX®, family of products – are designed to block the harmful effect of UV light and heat on the polymer chain. They also provide long-term stability to the polymer chain to prevent its loss of physical and mechanical properties over time: the plastics they protect retain their strength and color, meaning they can be used again.
Among the large polymer family, polyolefins are widely used in industries ranging from automotive to building & construction and agriculture. You will typically find them in car bumpers, outdoor furniture, greenhouse film covers, solar panels, kayaks… You name it. The problem is, polyolefins age rapidly when exposed to light, oxygen and heat. Because of that, you guessed it, additives are required.
That’s where Solvay’s UV stabilization technologies kick in. They can slow, and even stop, the ongoing degradation of polyolefins and make recycling viable. Higher percentages of recycled resin can therefore be used by manufacturers in their polymer mix, which is exactly what they are looking to do these days. Lucky for them, they can rely on Solvay’s 60 years of experience in polymer additives.
“By protecting recycled polyolefins, additives allow a plastic used to make a car bumper today to be remanufactured as a car bumper again in the future, which would be impossible otherwise,” says Sophie Poelmans, Global Marketing Manager for Polymer Additives at Solvay’s Technology Solutions global business unit. “Furthermore, in addition to the fact that UV and thermal stabilizers support the use of recycled materials, they also extend their lifetime. This leads to reducing plastic waste and makes them a strong contributor to the circular economy.”
Another environmentally beneficial result of using additives is that with better UV resistance, polyolefins become a more competitive replacement for metal in the race for lightweighting that automotive manufacturers (among others) are engaged in. The higher the percentage of a car that can be made of plastic, the less fuel it will consume, and the less greenhouse gases it will emit.
“Thanks to our latest UV stabilizers, the performance of plastic parts is higher while the cost to impart necessary UV stabilization properties has decreased,” explains Andrea Landuzzi, Global Marketing Director, Polymer Additives. “We’ve been leading the way with UV stabilizers for decades, but today, this improved performance means that polyolefins can be considered as a replacement for metal like never before.”
Across the board
Fully realizing such a virtuous circle is not something that Solvay can do alone. In this field, as in many others, Solvay wants to work hand-in-hand with its customers, providers and partners to accelerate growth within a circular economy. “That’s why we don’t just aim to extend the life of plastic parts, we want to go further,” explains Mechelle Engemann, responsible for Sustainable Development at Solvay Technology Solutions. “The issues go way beyond the product, so we want to collaborate across the value chain, reaching beyond our sustainability goals and be a leader in innovative plastics of the future, heightening our focus on shared value creation.”