Plastics are everywhere. Analyses of water, soil and even biological organisms confirm this primary impression. This is the result of an annual growth in global polymer production that has consistently outpaced global gross domestic product and population growths. The properties of strength and durability, that make plastics so useful during their functional lifetimes, are severe disadvantages at end-of-life, as these materials are overwhelmingly landfilled or leaked into the environment.
A large fraction (40 %) of post- consumer- waste (PCW) packaging plastics is destined for landfill, where they will lose nearly all their embedded value. Moreover, only 2 % of all recovered plastic packaging waste is returned to the same or similar-quality applications.
In this context, the next grand challenge for polymer chemistry is to develop materials and processes that can be efficiently recycled directly into their own starting materials, i.e. chemical recycling to monomers (CRM) or to products like crude oil fractions. Polymers produced from recovered monomer feedstocks have no loss of properties; moreover, the process recovers embedded value and mitigates environmental effects. Yet, CRM capability is not sufficient to establish an ideal polymer economy — polymer performance must meet the demands of diverse applications.
Enhancing circularity by using renewable monomers and sustainable chemical strategies of polymer upcycling
The SusChemPol project deals to address this challenge by focusing on 4 main objectives:
- To develop profitable and sustainable chemical recycling alternatives with scalable potential based on chemolysis, chemocatalysis, thermolysis and devulcanization processes to recover three main polymer wastes: polyesters, polystyrene and derivatives and rubber.
- To eco-design alternative synthesis strategies in order to produce polymers (in particular polymer networks) that could be recycled and reused.
- To assess the material upcycling of recycled and renewable monomers by transforming them into new and more sustainable polymers, coatings or high-added value products.
- To develop predictive models to assess the quality of chemically recycled monomers/oils from complex multi-material mixtures found in actual waste streams.
The SusChempol project is financed by the Ministry of Science and Innovation together with the AEI, in the field of R&D projects of strategic lines. It is an aid to the consortium led by the CSIC, together with the GAIKER foundation and the companies Nasika, ARKEMA, REPSOL and Valoriza Servicios Medioambientales.