There is a growing emphasis on sustainable, environmentally-friendly materials in the marketplace and Trinseo is meeting this demand directly with its ECO Series materials. This is a portfolio of polycarbonate (PC) and PC/ABS resins that contain recycled content -- scrap or waste plastic that has been reclaimed and reprocessed for reuse.
With its ECO series, Trinseo has mastered the process of combining virgin and recycled content to achieve the exact properties needed for an application. In fact, we are able to create a material with up to 95 percent recycled content. This includes ultra-bright white and transparent options — both difficult to achieve with material other than virgin content.
Since Trinseo started developing recycled-content-containing materials over a decade ago, our R&D and TS&D teams have overcome numerous challenges such as recycled feedstock availability and quality, reliable sourcing, and ways to balance material performance properties to ensure the integrity of an end-use application.
We have also seen that some applications are appropriate for recycled content and some are not. For example, industries that are highly regulated or have strict requirements have limitations due to the variability in recycled resin content and the potential impact on material performance properties. In Medical for example where biocompatibility is a strict requirement for patient-tissue contact applications, recycled material is not acceptable; in Automotive applications that provide structural support, recycled material may not be possible if there’s an impact on mechanical properties that would affect safety.
A common misperception is that material with recycled content is less costly since its content is partially “used material.” In reality there are a number of additional and more complex steps involved in recycled material creation ranging from additional development time to ensure optimized mechanical performance, to additional cleaning and processing steps, to added quality control.
Despite the effort involved, it is encouraging to see the impact of our ECO materials. Recently, Trinseo engaged thinkstep, a sustainability consulting, software and data organization, to perform life cycle analysis on its EMERGE™ ECO PC and PC/ABS grades compared to virgin materials. Parameters evaluated were: 1) the difference in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, and 2) the difference in water and energy consumption. In all cases, Trinseo ECO resins had a significantly reduced environmental impact.
PCR vs. PIR: What’s the Difference?
Trinseo’s first ECO grade materials utilized Post-Consumer Recycled (PCR) content, in other words, plastic waste that was previously used by a consumer, then reclaimed and recycled. Recently we have started incorporating Post-Industrial Recycled (PIR) content into our materials. Unlike PCR which touches the consumer, PIR is waste generated during the production process that has been reclaimed and recycled. One precondition for a material to qualify as PIR, is that it must leave its original place of production, otherwise it receives a different classification (e.g. scrap, regrind, etc.).