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Report of the IUPAC Working Party on Recycling of Polymers

The Macromolecular Division of the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) has a long-standing interest in the recycling of polymers, as evidenced by the international symposium it sponsored already in 1991 (Ref. 1). Because of the great societal concern about this issue, the Macromolecular Division followed up this action by formally establishing a Working Party on Recycling of Polymers.

The Working Party was charged with reporting on the state of recycling (Ref. 2) as applied to industrial polymers, and to make suitable recommendations. The Working Party met on three occasions: in 1993 in Lisbon, Portugal; in 1994 in Arlington, Virginia, USA; and in 1995 in Guilford, U.K.

In addition, it carried out extensive correspondence and was a principal sponsor of the Microsymposium on Recycling of Polymers that was held in Prague, Czech Republic, in July 1997. The Working Party contributed a number of papers to this volume, which are placed before those presented at the Microsymposium. It also formulated certain recommendations, given below, which were discussed at the Prague Microsymposium and adopted without dissent by the participants.

This material will be published as part of the edition of Macromolecular Symposia devoted to papers from the Prague Microsymposium on Polymer Recycling 1997
> Published in Macromolecular Symposia 135, 1-373 (1998)

The members of the Working Party who participated in at least some of its activities are the following:

  • Prof. Ann-Christine Albertsson
    Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, Sweden
  • Prof. Takashi Akehata
    Science University of Tokyo, Tokyo, Japan
  • Dr. Norbert M. Bikales, Chairman
    National Science Foundation, Paris, France
  • Dr. Johannes Brandrup
    Verband Kunststofferzeugende Industrie, Frankfurt, Germany
  • Dr. Michael M. Fisher
    American Plastics Council, Washington, DC, USA
  • Prof. Walter Heitz
    Phillips-Universität Marburg, Marburg/Lahn, Germany
  • Prof. James D. Idol
    Rutgers University, Piscataway, NJ, USA
  • Dr. Fred W. Mader
    Association of the Plastics Manufacturers in Europe, Brussels, Belgium
  • Prof. Robert H. Marchessault
    McGill University, Montreal, PQ, Canada
  • Prof. James H. O’Donnell (Deceased)
    University of Queensland, Queensland, Australia
  • Prof. Hans w. Schnecko
    Hanau, Germany
  • Dr. Rowan W. Truss
    University of Queensland, Queensland, Australia

A number of other persons also contributed to the activities of the Working Party; their names are given as authors or co-authors of the papers published in this volume. Support from the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry and the International Council of Scientific Unions is gratefully acknowledged.

  1. W.Heitz, symp. ed., "Recycling of Polymers," Macromol. Chem., Macromol. Symp. 57, 1992, 395 pp.

  2. Official definitions of recycling apply in various areas of the world, e.g., in the European Union. The term is used here in the broad sense of reusing not only the material content but also of recovering energy or chemical content of polymeric materials that would otherwise be disposed of in wasteful ways, e.g., in landfills.

Recommendations of the IUPAC Working Party on Recycling of Polymers

The Working Party considers recycling and recovery of polymers to be part of sustainable product use and development.

Sustainability as applied to recycling means consideration of appropriate ecological, economic, and societal aspects.

Ecological aspects to be considered should encompass

  • the conservation of resources
  • the reduction of emissions
  • the avoidance of hazardous substances
  • the reduction of waste

Ecological, economic and societal aspects should be balanced.

The Working Party accepts mechanical and feedstock recycling as materials recycling. Combustion for heat production with controlled emissions is considered energy recovery, as shown in diagram A.

Mechanical recycling should be applied when the processing energy put into the virgin product can be saved to a large extent through reasonable technical efforts:

  • the legal, medical and safety rules established for the use of plastics and rubber are also observed for recyclates;
  • the applicable (current and future) standards of plastics and rubber are not deteriorated.

The ecological gain is the bigger, the smaller the technical effort for recycling. Collection and sorting costs – although ecologically rather unimportant – are economically very costly and have to be considered as part of the overall recycling scheme.

Mechanical recycling leading to the substitution of virgin plastic resins is the preferred route for waste that is rather homogeneous in composition and largely uncontaminated. Because of this limitation, it is very often restricted to production and processing scrap.

Mechanical recycling of mixed plastics, leading to substitutes for wood or concrete products, cannot by itself solve the large problem of post-consumer waste, and may be ecologically misguided as shown by recent life-cycle analyses.

The Working Party recommends that heterogeneous, mixed and contaminated waste should instead be treated by the methods of feedstock recycling or energy recovery as outlined in diagram B.

Recovery of Plastics Waste — The Options

RECOMMENDED RECOVERY OPTIONS FOR DIFFERENT TYPES OF PLASTICS WASTE

 

Type of Plastic Waste

Mechanical
Recycling

Feedstock Recycling

Energy Recovery

Sorted, single Type Plastics

++

+

+

Mixed Plastics

+

++

++ (Plastics derived fuel)

Mixed Plastics & Paper etc.

-

-

++ (Refuse derived fuel)

Plastics in municipal solid Waste

-

-

++ (Municipal solid waste combustion)

+ = suitable/ ++ = preferred

Costs increase as more collection and separation is required for the recovery process

So-called cradle-to-grace approaches for products should be used for finding the most sustainable route for fulfilling human needs. Detailed life-cycle analysis seems to be a proper tool for evaluation.

The Working Party considers that all recycling of plastics and rubber should have an ecological or economic goal. Without such justification, it should not be done simply for its own sake.

The Working Party recalls that scientific and technological advances have produced a large variety of tailor-made plastics and rubber products that have been manufactured in order to satisfy a broad range of human needs, often in a sustainable way. This important and often critical societal contribution of polymers must be considered in a balanced way.

The Working Party recalls that scientific and technological advances have produced a large variety of tailor-made plastics and rubber products that have been manufactured in order to satisfy a broad range of human needs, often in a sustainable way. This important and often critical societal contribution of polymers must be considered in a balanced way.

The Working Party recommends that IUPAC continue to promote

  • research which leads towards the development of polymers and composite materials within a framework of sustainability, as well as

  • technologies and standards for polymer recycling an recovery

  • the establishment of a polymer recycling network that would permit easy exchange of information and act as an information database.

These recommendations were presented by the Working Party at the IUPAC Microsymposium on Recycling of Polymers in Prague in July 1997 and were unanimously approved.

Ecological, economical and social aspects should be balanced.

The Working Party accepts mechanical and feedstock recycling as material recycling. combustion for heat production with controlled emissions is considered as energy recovery as shown in diagram A.


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