Blog Niels Hoffard: A great moment to put our Recycling hero in the spotlight - Polyester
18-03-2022: Today is Global Recycling Day!
Polyester is one of the best recyclable plastics. Since Wallace Carothers invented polyester in the 1920s, it was used for many applications and it is now an integral part of our lives. DuFor decided in the late zero’s to fully transition to polyesters specialties because of its versatility. This versatility allows us to achieve the most diverse properties but more importantly, this is the key to good recyclability.
Polyesters are long chain molecules linked by ester bonds and they breakdown easily under certain circumstances. They can also be build up easily, unlike other polymers that do not have these particular bonds. It is this versatile property that makes it so highly recyclable. What comes up must go down they say but with polyester, what goes down can also go up again. A key role in this matter is Solid state polymerization (SSP) done by our sister company Cumapol. We utilize SSP together with extrusion and polymerization to produce our specialty materials but it is also used to recycle bottles. PET Bottle recycling is one of the few processes that is successfully performed on a large scale across the world which is called mechanical recycling. However, we see potential to recycle almost all thermoplastic polyesters if they are properly designed.
Mechanical recycling has a younger brother called chemical recycling, who matures quickly. Chemical recycling also uses the property that ester bonds can be easily broken down and build up again, only now the degradation is stimulated by some smart chemistry. In the degraded state where the polymer molecular chains are broken down into the building blocks, called monomers, we are able to remove interfering components such as dyes. The polyester molecules can then be build up again from these monomers. Our spin-off CuRe Technology wants to use this process to recycle all hard to recycle polyester streams in the future. Cumapol, CuRe and DuFor together form a tripod that include all the necessary steps for closing the polyester cycle. However, the long journey towards closing these loops has only just begun.
The potential of the novel recycling technologies is enormous, but, the problem of not being able to recycle properly lies in the incorrect design of the recipe. Therefore we encourage our customers to create their own closed recycling loop parallel to the design of the product that takes this recycle loop into account. In our opinion this is the only way to achieve a fully circular economy. If you really want to recycle polyester efficiently, we have to create new small recycling loops, where the particular material recipe is tailor-made for the recycling of the product and vice versa.
Fully recyclable polyesters without downcycling
It makes no sense to use polyester from existing recycling cycles, like PET-bottle recycling, when you produce something different out of it that is no longer recyclable or if you are not sure that it will be recycled. This only brings more material to its end of life. If you want a recyclable and fully functioning material for your application it is even better to start with a virgin material where you completely rebuild the chemical composition so your application can actually be recycled again and again. This is needed for the long term sustainability and we can only make supply chains circular if we work together on this!
Take responsibility, Let’s create our own polyester loops, it’s your choice!