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Driving Sustainable Futures

March 19, 2021

Closing the Loop for Consumer Electronics and Consumer Goods

By Pascal Lakeman, Global Director, R&D, Engineered Materials

Over the last decade, brand owner demand has driven the integration of post-consumer recycled (PCR) plastic feedstocks into materials for consumer electronics. At Trinseo, we pioneered the use of PCR materials in consumer electronics. We currently produce a polycarbonate (PC) resin portfolio with up to 95% PCR content. We’ve also proven through life cycle analysis that our ECO portfolio significantly reduced CO2 emissions and water/energy consumption when compared to virgin feedstocks.

Closing the Loop

As demand for PCR content grows, feedstocks of high-quality PCR PC are becoming depleted, threatening the use of PCR content in products we market. And yet about 85% of all consumer electronics, consumer goods, and ELV waste streams are still incinerated, exacerbating their environmental impact and eliminating them from the material cycle.

The solution? Adopt a closed-loop process to recycle materials from end-of-life devices into new, high-end feedstocks. This is far from simple, as complexity depends on what is being recycled. A PC water bottle has a relatively straightforward recycling process. However, toys, dashboards, and electronics consist of formulated and fused multi-material assemblies that must first be separated.

To realize the potential of a closed-loop system, we’re working with brand owners to take the following steps:

1. Overcome Supply Chain Issues

Polymers like PC and ABS are common in waste streams from consumer goods, ELV and e-waste. The challenge lies in capturing and classifying these end-of-life resources so they can be reused. This is particularly challenging with goods or devices that are falsely discarded in household waste streams.

A consumer mindset shift is required to prioritize recycling of these materials. Think about it. How many old phones do you currently have stashed away?

2. Develop New Process Technologies

We’re working with brand owners and OEMs to recapture polymers from consumer goods, ELV and e-waste. To achieve this, Trinseo is heavily investing in process technologies such as chemical recycling, which reverts plastic polymers to monomers or pure polymers, then back into new formulated materials.

As can be expected, these new processes necessitate significant technology and innovation investments, and also need significant manufacturing adjustments and new asset strategies. To address this, Trinseo is leading the process research on transforming existing polymer facilities to recycle waste plastics, thereby sustainably upgrading our current manufacturing processes.

3. Design New Formulation Technologies

Finally, new processing technologies will necessitate adjustments to polymer formulations. Trinseo is taking a leading role in developing the formulation technologies required to make materials from these new processes, and to ensure the materials can be recycled again and again.

It won’t be easy to realize the potential of a closed-loop system, but the benefits are irrefutable. Together with our customers, we’re taking meaningful steps to achieve their sustainability goals and move toward circularity for polymers like PC and ABS. Please reach out to me if you are excited about these new developments and want to discuss.

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