PureCycle has been developing new innovations in the recycling of polypropylene, the second most used plastic in the world. This type of plastic is the type of plastic that has been recycled at least to date.
Considering that only less than 10% of what is used is recycled, the plastic waste problem becomes serious. The amount of plastic waste in the oceans alone is 100 million tons. However, plastic waste can be a completely renewable resource. The issue that scientists are investigating is: can plastics be used over and over in an endless cycle without becoming waste? So what are the ways to ensure this cycle? Through the discovery of these pathways, the linear economy can become the circular economy.
Recycling of Polypropylene
John Layman has made an important progress towards achieving this. He is the head of materials science at Procter§Gamble and the founder and chief technology officer of PureCycle Technologies. The aim of the process developed by Layman is to purify polypropylene plastic waste from color, contaminants and odor and convert it into a resin in this way. To this resin will become a virtually unused resin. What makes this technology most special is that although polypropylene is the second most used plastic type in the world, it is only 1% recycled plastic.
Some plastic additives have been added to these innovative materials from PureCycle by Scott Trenor. Scott Trenor is Layman’s former classmate and polymer scientist for Milliken & Company. These additives are so interesting that they change the properties of plastics so that they can be used for different products. Because a cheese pot should be flexible whereas a water drum should be durable. This innovation brought the two companies together to start a commercial production.
According to Trenor, this union has a fruitful harmony as it is built around the same environmental goal. In fact, Milliken’s policies in this direction began in 1901. The target of all circular economy policies, including zero waste, is 2025. This innovation developed by Layman coincides with P§G’s 100% recyclable material plan for all its packaging.
Layman’s interest in recycling started in 2008 with a stint at P§G. The purpose of this task was to investigate whether plastic waste can be used with P§G packaging. “The quality of the recycled materials is questionable,” he says. Currently, PET and HDPE are the most economically viable types for both recyclers and those using recycled plastics. However, it is challenging to obtain quality products from even these two.
Layman decided on polypropylene because it was the third most used plastic resin. The most distinctive features of this plastic are that it is resistant to impact and has a flexible structure. It is mostly used in covers, phones, luggage. You can see this plastic used everywhere. However, it requires a lot of processing in terms of recycling, so it is costly to recycle. Moreover, due to its intense odor and non-purified pollutants, only black or gray products are recycled as output. Therefore, its recycling rate is very low and its usage area is very limited.
Layman was aware that the way to expand the usage area of this type of plastic after recycling and thus to increase its commercial value was through an economical treatment process. Thanks to a funding program of the firm, it first started with the discovery phase. Since the technology in question is a solvent-based process that does not work on a molecular basis, it is energy efficient compared to chemical processes. According to Layman, this quality of purification is achieved not only by using the right solvent, but also by following certain processes.
Global PureCycle Goals
After purification, it is necessary to obtain recycled polypropylene with certain properties for a particular product. At this stage, additives are processed. These additives can differentiate PureCycle resin according to the purpose of use. In this way, polypropylene resin can be used for the production of a much different and wide range of products. The planned polypropylene purification and recycling target for the first plant is 119 million pounds and an annual production target of 105 million pounds. Even though the numbers seem big, when we look at the data of 2018, there is the fact that 120 billion pounds of polypropylene is produced in the world. This means that, as Layman said, these goals are not that big. The larger plan is to build 25 more facilities around the world. Layman states that they aim to transform 10-20% of the polypropylene produced by these facilities with this technology.
PureCycle is A Long Term Marathon
According to Trenor, considering the technologies used for this recycling, it is a marathon run. In this marathon run, technology alone is not enough to create the plastic cycle. Consumer behavior should be differentiated, recycling should be assisted, and recycling companies should be provided with an economic basis to recycle polypropylene along with PET and HDPE.