GIT Sicherheit + Management 03/2002

Plastic Recycling: Ecology, Economy and Safety
Dr. Gerald G. Altnau

With the CreaSolv® Process, Creacycle GmbH offers a new plastics recycling technology for the production of high purity recycled material. The recycling process uses simple separation methods and environmentally friendly solvents. 

git_4-2002_1_1.jpgAn economical plastic recycling cycle can only truly be successful if the plastic can be returned to virgin quality levels. 
Most of the currently practiced sorting techniques struggle with this challenge.

Solvent based recycling processes should not be regarded as competition to sorting technologies, but as chance to improve the quality of the recycled material. They can only be applied successfully when following a sorting process. Several commonly used plastics can be handled with very simple technology: 

Polystyrene waste in Germany
source: EUWID  Nov. 2001        year-to-date



























































 Dissolving, filtering, precipitation, drying 
The “CreaSolv® Process” combines the “Selective Extraction” (patent pending) of the Fraunhofer Institute in Freising, Germany (co-operation partner of Creacycle GmbH) with the use of preferably safe alternative solvent-formulations, tailored to a selected plastic with the help of a computer program and laboratory testing. Expanded polystyrene (EPS), commonly known as Styropor® (registered trademark of the BASF AG), is an ideal challenge for the new recycling process.
The CreaSolv® PS formulation was especially designed for EPS and is not classified according to the EU regulations.  The formulation is readily biodegradable. It consists of mainly “non-VOCs” (volatile organic compounds) and is regarded as mainly “solvent-free”. This means that it can be used without restrictions for the EPS collection and can be easily recycled.

Expanded Polystyrene
Expanded polystyrene (EPS) consists mainly (98%) of air. From approximately 20,000 Tonnes used in the production of packaging materials, only 20% are re-used by the producers. Most of the remaining part is collected in an inefficient and costly logistic process where the material is transported across Germany in so-called “Jumbo-trucks” (special trucks with a loading capacity of 90 m3 or more) to a “Recycling” location. At the end of this process EPS is ground into small balls, which are more or less “waste”-blended into flowerpot earth or porous bricks. In contrast, a feasibility study has proven that the CreaSolv® Process produces very pure polystyrene recyclates allowing the re-use in the original application.

Dioxin Formation in Electro-waste
Despite the fact that the use of plastics is dramatically increasing in our society, most of the known recycling processes fail due to the fire protection requirements for plastic housings. These requirements are met with the git_4-2002_2_2.jpgaddition of flame-retardants. Before 1990 mainly brominated organic compounds were used, which can react under thermal treatment (also during the extrusion process) into highly toxic reaction products. Classical plastic recycling processes go through a melting step (re-granulation) that would even support these undesired reactions. Approximately 50.000 metric Tonnes of  plastic waste need to be incinerated yearly at high cost because they contain only 250 grams of toxic additives. Also here the CreaSolv® Process can help. Different plastic types (ABS – Acrylonitrilebutadienestyrene and HIPS – High impact polystyrene) can be dissolved in CreaSolv® Formulations and be precipitated while the flame-retardants and their toxic reaction products stay in solution. The latter can be isolated and waste-handled in concentrated form or given back to the bromine industry for recycling. The eventually remaining additives or toxic reaction products in the recycled plastic are far below the official limits. If one desires to act economically and ecologically (main subjects: COissue and green house effect) this is the right direction, because the properties of the recycled material are comparable in their mechanical properties with the original plastics1). With an incineration cost of 400 Euro per metric Tonne and with a conservative calculation of an achievable price for the recycled material  of Euro/kg 0,50 (less than half of the price for virgin material), 50,000 metric tons plastics from Electro-waste offer a business potential of 45 million Euro – revenue accessible via the CreaSolv® Process.

The future has begun
How long can we afford to financially support  the transport of 1 million m3 EPS polymer together with 980.000 m3 of entrapped air on crowded git_4-2002_3_3.jpgGerman Highways via the DSD (Dual System Germany or “Green Dot”) instead of alternatively investing in a promising EPS-Recycling technology like the CreaSolv® Process?

Through the use of this process annual transport costs would automatically decrease by 90% or 4.5 million Euro per year. With only half of these savings, a chemical recycler could cover the investment cost for a 10.000 metric Tonne EPS-recycling plant. This of course assumes that a re-thinking process is started to question established structures, aimed at the improvement of our environment and the increase in economical efficiency. When in Germany we still search for our way through the “jungle of subsidies” while other countries are already some steps ahead of us. For example in Japan where EPS has already been recycled for several years (by companies like Styrochem or Sony); the volumes of recycled materials increase steadily. Also,  the commonly found expert’s opinion that chemical process technology is not compatible with established mechanical sorting technology has already been disproved in Italy. BASF and Solvay have just started up their joint venture Vinyloop® recycling plant for PVC with a capacity of 10.000 metric Tonnes and based on solvent technology (investment: 10 million Euro). 

Therefore CreaCycle looks to co-operate with companies:
1. that waste-handle large amounts of dirty EPS and that intend to produce polystyrene or EPS – maybe with the intention of using a slogan like  “This EPS packaging is produced 100% from recycled EPS”
2. in the chemical industry interested in opening up new business opportunities in the field of plastic recycling.
3. that process plastics via injection molding and/or the expansion of polystyrene and would have an interest in working with above mentioned companies to develop specifications for recycled material for use in many applications.

This sort of collaboration could establish a recycling process, that produces recycled plastic of high quality. Looking at the mass of polystyrene waste in Germany, being imported and exported, a recycling plant using this technology should easily be fully utilized. This same or a similar group of companies could develop methods for a sustainable, ecological and economical material cycle Electro-waste opening up a large business potential.
The German industry and the environment can only profit when innovative companies from chemistry, recycling industry, plastics processing and process engineering would form an alliance in this new field. Otherwise there is the danger that such new technologies will not be built in Germany but in nearby countries.

Mr. Altnau, what do you imagine plastic recycling going in Germany over the next five years?

Altnau: There will be up to two recycling plants, specializing in plastic recycling on less pure streams based on “selective extraction”. They will start with polystyrene dissolving and precipitation and because this is so easy, soon these companies will develop similar techniques to treat Electro-waste and other plastics with high efficiency. 

Why has nobody else thought of plastic recycling in solution in Germany, yet? 

git_4-2002_2_1.jpgAltnau: This may be based on the education and the paradigms of many mechanical engineers, which have led the the recycling technology initiatives.  Their thinking is founded on mechanical principles. This profession may forgive me for offering the following example: If you ask an engineer to separate a mixture of sugar and sand, you will get at the end a very sophisticated machine what will mechanically separate effectively crystal by crystal.  A chemist would probably just pour a cup of water over it and dissolve the sugar. Exactly this is the principle of the CreaSolv® Process – a very simple technique. One dissolves something in a liquid, filters it and precipitates it again. It is the same as with scale from water, to be found at the water taps after evaporation of the water and bothering the “mistress of the house”. The same happens in the CreaSolv® Process – but in the contrary the plastic recycler is pleased about the remains.

Dr. Gerald Altnau
Associate of the Creacycle GmbH
Orkener Str. 33
D-41515 Grevenbroich
E-mail: Gerald.Altnau@creacycle .de
Marketing & Business Manager
Nylon Intermediates
DuPont De Nemours (Germany) GmbH

CreaSolv® is a registered trademark of the CreaCycle GmbH

[1] Dr. A. Mäurer – Fraunhofer Institut IVV- Gefahrstoffelimination beim Recycling von Kunststoffabfällen aus E-Schrott – Vortrag Unternehmerforum 25.10.2001

Source: GIT VERLAG, IT Sicherheit + Management 03/2002, page 65

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