Plastics are the materials of our time. They help us overcome global challenges, such aligning economy and society with climate-neutrality, developing new mobility concepts, or making our cities more livable.
However, in order to achieve a truly sustainable future and protect our environment in the long run, our understanding of plastic waste – and waste as a whole – must fundamentally change.
Produce, consume, dispose – it often works like a one-way street. But this pattern has had its day. Industry must now work to ensure that plastics can be used for as long as possible. That means that at the end of their lives, plastics should not become waste. Instead, plastic should be systematically and effectively reused and recycled.
But to do this, disposal systems and recycling technologies throughout the world need to be improved. And in many places, they still need to be set up. This evolution can only happen if all market players work closely together. And in this scenario, the plastics industry must and will assume the leading role for managing plastic recycling. Covestro wants to be at the forefront of this development.
Covestro Promotes Recycling
Covestro aims to design plastics and their components from the outset so that they can be recycled as easily as possible. Over the next few years, we will be conducting extensive research on different recycling technologies, using our experience in chemicals and our innovative capabilities to guide our path forward. Across more than 20 research and development projects, we will be developing new, efficient technologies and methods to recycle plastic. Our approach is broad enough to incorporate our diversity of products and markets. The goal: Providing market-ready solutions as quickly as possible.
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.
Comprehensive Technological Approach
Broadly speaking, there are two different ways of recycling – mechanical and chemical.
In these processes, waste materials are recycled into "new" secondary 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 old water bottles into high-grade plastic for electronic components, such as laptops and printers.
In chemical recycling, plastics are reduced to their original molecular forms so that they can eventually be processed into entirely new plastic materials. There is significant demand for more development in this field – and this is where Covestro can offer up its core chemical expertise. For example, in the European-wide research project PUReSmart, which aims to significantly improve the recycling of polyurethane foam.
One type of chemical recycling is called enzymatic recycling. Here, used products and waste are broken down into their chemical constituents using enzymes, thus producing new recycled raw materials that can be reused. And finally, in pyrolysis, material is broken down into small molecules using very high temperatures. These molecules are often used again at the beginning of manufacturing processes.