Innovative Recycling – More Reuse, Less Plastic Waste

Plastic – an indispensable material that shapes the future. But all too often, plastic products become waste at the end of their lives. This needs to change. After all, used plastic or plastic waste is not necessarily waste, but often a valuable source of raw materials. Covestro therefore wants to promote innovative technologies to return plastic waste to the value cycle. Above all, chemical recycling, which is still in its infancy, must be advanced.

Plastics are the materials of our time. They help us cope with global challenges, such as aligning economy and society with climate-neutrality. But also in developing new mobility concepts, or addressing the growth of the world’s population and making our cities more livable.

Nine percent of all plastics ever manufactured have been recycled

However, in order to achieve a truly sustainable future and protect our environment in the long run, our attitude towards consumption and understanding of plastic waste – and waste as a whole – must change. Since 1970, global resource consumption has more than tripled. The natural resources for 2021 were already exhausted after seven months. At the same time, humanity does not utilize products in a sustainable way. According to a scientific study, only around 9 percent of all plastics manufactured between 1950 and 2015 have been recycled.

Covestro Promotes Recycling

As a pioneer of the circular economy, Covestro wants to promote plastic recycling. In particular, we aim to develop new technologies or innovations and make them marketable as quickly as possible. To this end, we have set up more than 20 research and development projects. We are pursuing a broad technological approach in order to meet the diversity of products and markets.

As we develop these new plastic recycling technologies, we are paying particular attention to energy efficiency. This way, we reduce the carbon footprint of our products and make our business more sustainable. At the same time, we are working to develop new circular business models with customers and partners.

Covestro aims to develop new ways of plastic recycling.

Chemical Recycling

Chemical recycling, which is still in its early stages, is particularly promising. Covestro sees great potential here. After all, for certain plastics it is the only possible method of recycling. Chemical recycling is particularly relevant for plastics that cannot be recycled mechanically, or only at great expense. Large quantities of the original feedstock can be recovered in the process.

We are working intensively with partners to further develop chemical recycling and establish it on the market. The Europe-wide Circular Foam research project, which involves 22 different partners from nine countries and is coordinated by Covestro, could play an important role here. The goal: to chemically break down rigid polyurethane foam, which is needed as an insulating material in refrigerators and for buildings, into its molecules and then recompose them. This lighthouse project could save one million metric tons of waste, around three million metric tons of CO₂ emissions and €150 million in incineration costs every year in Europe from 2040.

There are three types of approaches to chemical recycling that Covestro is pursuing:

  • Chemolysis: Splitting of plastics into individual building blocks (monomers) by chemical processes. Solvents, catalysts, heat or pressure are used.
  • Smart Pyrolysis: Breaking down plastics into individual building blocks (monomers) by heating in the absence of oxygen. The approach pursued by Covestro is characterized by low temperatures, resulting in fewer process steps and CO2 emissions compared with conventional high-temperature pyrolysis.
  • Enzymatic Recycling: Splitting plastics into individual building blocks (monomers) with the help of enzymes at moderate temperatures.

Mechanical Recycling

In these processes, waste materials are recycled into new raw materials without changing the base structure of the material. For example, after sorting and processing, plastic is crushed into granulate. This can be melted down and made into new plastic. One of the ways Covestro uses mechanical recycling is to transform water bottles, into high-grade plastic components for electronic and household appliances as well as for car parts.

Design for Recycling

It is important to design plastics as recyclable materials from the very beginning, thereby protecting the environment. Covestro is also active in this field.

Materials can be traced back with the Niaga® product concept.

With Niaga® , we have a concept that enables tailored recycling by allowing the materials of the products to be traced. Here, we work together with 16 partners worldwide. QR-coded labels provide access to a unique product passport. This gives manufacturers and recyclers, for example, precise information about the materials and how they can be recycled. So that mattresses, carpets and furniture panels end up in the bulky waste less often.

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