September 17, 2020

VTT re-thinking collection and handling of polystyrene

A person holding two polystyrene foam containers.
Polystyrene is used to make a variety of food containers.
VTT

VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland and its research and business partners have launched a two-year project exploring ways to increase the recycling of polystyrene into material for other plastics and chemicals.

Used in its solid form in containers such as yogurt cups and in its soft form for damping and insulation, polystyrene is mechanically recyclable, but its collection is challenging primarily because in its soft form – known as expanded polystyrene foam – the material takes up a lot of space and crumbles and stains easily.

Most of the small amount of polystyrene waste collected consequently ends up being incinerated in Finland.

The recycling of the crude oil-based material, however, is becoming increasingly important due to the mounting need to reduce the use of fossil raw materials and the 10-per cent growth the 36 billion-euro global polystyrene market is to witness in the coming years.

“Our target is to offer a technically and economically feasible solution to the recycling of polystyrene waste in Europe,” outlined Muhammad Saad Qureshi, the project lead at VTT.

“We will explore the state of polystyrene production, consumption and recycling in Finland and selected European countries. We will also develop a logistics model for collecting polystyrene waste and methods for its mechanical and chemical recycling.”

The research team will dedicate resources also to developing the thermochemical recycling, or pyrolysis, of polystyrene, which disintegrates the material into shorter polymer chains and styrene monomers. The pyrolysis oil produced in the process can be purified to replace oil fractions in the production of aromatics, latex, polystyrene and carbon black, for example.

The nearly one million-euro budget of the project is covered by the likes of Aalto University, Business Finland, Finnfoam, Finnish Plastics Recycling, Helsinki Region Environmental Services Authority (HSY) and Lassila & Tikanoja.

“Together with our partners we can develop the whole value chain involved in polystyrene recycling. We expect that the project will substantially increase recycling opportunities and create new businesses. Our goal is to lead the way in polystyrene recycling Europe wide,” commented Qureshi.

Good News from Finland is published by Finnfacts, which is part of Business Finland.

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