Trinseo | Industry Partnerships Advance the Use of Recycled Polystyrene
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Thought Leadership

January 29, 2021

Industry Partnerships Advance the Use of Recycled Polystyrene

One of the biggest challenges the Plastics industry faces is the global issue of waste, litter, and the environmental impact of plastics. In addition, while individual operational efforts seek to provide innovative, sustainable solutions to customers, there is an increasing need to find innovative solutions to these issues that have great significance to the environment and in communities across the globe.

This topic was identified in Trinseo’s recent Materiality Assessment of its stakeholders to determine sustainability topics of concern. Trinseo’s now plans to pave the way to circular solutions for our customers and the world, contributing to the possibility of a truly circular economy.

As one of the world’s leading producers of polystyrene with an 80 plus year history, Trinseo proactively is advancing polystyrene recycling solutions to help address the issue of plastics waste and helping to lead an industry initiative to work toward an objective, technology based strategy and vision for the plastics and packaging industry, guided by circular economy principles.

Trinseo is a founding member of Styrenics Circular Solutions (SCS,) a consortium that explores new methods for polystyrene recycling. We are driving the adoption of new technologies to find new methods for polystyrene recycling, creating an infinitely recyclable and sustainable material. Nicolas Joly, Vice President, Plastics & Feedstocks, is SCS President.

Clearly plastics have become an invaluable part of everyday life, contributing to resource efficiency, increased functionalities, and superior aesthetics in a multitude of applications.

Modern polystyrene has long been a preferred material of the foodservice industry because it uses less energy and fewer resources to produce compared to alternatives, and it is also used to insulate homes to enable better energy efficiency. Polystyrene touches lives every day and has a positive role to play in the face of pressing challenges such as food waste, climate change, resource scarcity, the demand for a higher standard of living, and urban population growth.

In polystyrene, there is an opportunity to truly close the loop — full recycling back to the monomer. This monomer can then be used in production – a true virgin material with the same characteristics of monomer that has never gone through the recycling process. Polystyrene’s intrinsic circularity only can be unlocked when used polystyrene-containing products are properly collected, sorted, and channeled into the most effective and efficient recycling technologies.

That is where SCS is helping to lead the way. Given the urgency of reducing waste, litter, and the environmental impact of plastics, SCS is engaging the entire value chain — from partners in supply chains to converters, recyclers, brand owners, and trade associations as well as universities, suppliers, and service providers.

The future of polystyrene solutions lies within unlocking the full circularity of this highly versatile material. Polystyrene is used within a variety of consumer products and is particularly indispensable as a packaging material. The unique properties of polystyrene are challenging to find in the same combinations in other materials. Polystyrene is easily processed, clean, hygienic, lightweight, economical, recyclable, and safe.

Polystyrene has the potential to become infinitely recyclable. Full polystyrene circularity is a game changer, offering a unique potential for closed loop recycling — with fewer steps than recycling of other polymers. Depolymerization is an innovative technology for polystyrene recycling, which has already been proven to bring polystyrene waste back into a monomer — unlocking the intrinsic circularity of polystyrene even further. In turn, polystyrene circularity is particularly advantaged as it diverts waste material away from landfills, leading to a reduction in greenhouse gases and harmful emissions.

Recent Progress: Through the SCS collaboration, in 2019 we announced plans to build a first of- its-kind chemical recycling plant for polystyrene in Europe with INEOS Styrolution to contribute to our 2025 goal. Our target is to make the facility capable of processing up to 50 tons per day of post-consumer polystyrene feedstock. This will make a significant contribution toward achieving the European Commission’s targets for recycling rates.

Beyond SCS, Trinseo’s joint venture AmSty (US) is working on a joint venture with Agilyx, named Regenyx LLC, dedicated to fully recycling post-consumer polystyrene materials back into new polystyrene products in the United States. Through Regenyx, AmSty is already providing customers with polystyrene recycled from a monomer state, from post-consumer waste, known as PolyUsable™.