Mon, 10 August, 2020
TWI has been involved in a range of projects that deliver environmental benefits to help create a greener world. While some of these projects align with the UK government’s goal of reaching Net Zero by 2050, such as our work with electrification and renewable energy, others are more directly concerned with cleaning up the environment itself.
The collaborative ISOPREP Project, of which TWI is a partner, is one example of how we are working to help improve the environment. The project is working to develop an alternative to disposing of polypropylene (PP) products in landfills, instead seeking to find a method to recycle the material.
Polypropylene, a polymer that is primarily derived from crude oil, is the second-most used commodity polymer in the world. While it is found in products ranging from automotive interiors and banknotes to carpets and pipes, only 1% of these products are currently recycled, with the rest going to landfill. Plus, since these widely-used polymer products are oil-based, they are non-sustainable and create further environmental issues.
The ISOPREP Project has been working on using solvents to selectively solubilise polypropylene so that it can be recycled and reused elsewhere as a virgin quality material.
The project is focussing on recycling polypropylene carpet as a proof of concept and is based upon prior and patented knowledge from the consortium partners. Polypropylene carpet makes up a 17.6% share of the entire PP product market and a 45% share of the global carpet market. Once this pilot work has been completed, the process can be used for a wide range of PP products, such as packaging.
In 2010, the US produced over 226 million tonnes of PP packaging, which is in addition to output in the EU and elsewhere. Such products have a short lifespan as they are usually disposed of once the packaged product is unwrapped. However, this packaging takes decades to decompose in landfill. In addition to the time taken to break down, the decomposition of PP can release toxins, which pollute bio-systems.
One alternative way to dispose of these products is by burning them. However, this releases CO2 emissions into the atmosphere and also disregards PP’s value as a resource, necessitating further consumption of fossil sources to replace it.
The environmental benefits of recycling PP carpet alone are considerable. Recycling offers a reduction in CO2 emissions as compared to producing fresh PP, while fossil fuel source use is also greatly reduced. Should we reach a point where PP carpet is no longer being produced from primary sources, there is the potential for a 100% reduction in the amount of PP carpet going to landfill.
The environmental benefits from the ISOPREP Project in relation to PP carpet can be extrapolated out to include PP waste from a wide range of industrial and consumer products and, if we can achieve that goal globally, the environmental benefits will be significant.
The ISOPREP project has received funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 820787