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Upcycling plastic bottles into value-added composite applications

For every drum of INEOS PET based resin, 1.800 used plastic bottles are diverted from landfills and oceans. That’s the contribution of the INEOS Composites business towards the creation of a circular economy in which products and materials are recovered and regenerated at the end of their service life.

At INEOS, our approach to doing business drives performance, efficiency and sustainability across the Group, helping us stay reliable and competitive while creating new opportunities to reduce energy and waste. As a global chemical company, we have an important role to play in addressing the challenges the industry is facing nowadays.

Looking for new products and new ways of doing things that overcome the technical challenges of sustainability keeps our business one step ahead. And our recently acquired INEOS Composites business is no exception.

Composites & sustainability

Sustainability is becoming an ever more compelling argument in the composite material selection process. If your customers are like ours, you will have realized that they are asking more and more about the impact of our products and processes on the environment. Composites are indeed the preferred material of choice for many industry applications due to their strength, lightweight, corrosion resistance or durability, which typically results in a more sustainable material. In fact, sustainability in their use-phase is the key driver for the selection of composites over other traditional materials.

As key players of this industry, there is much more we can do to further exploit the sustainability benefits of composites. Besides the environmental impact reduction embedded in the functionalities of the composite materials, there are other elements along the life cycle of the product subject to sustainability improvement. For example, the viability of introducing recyclable materials, such as recycled plastics, in the manufacturing process of unsaturated polyester resins.

The plastic waste alarm

Why recycled plastics? The world is finally waking up to the problem of plastic waste. Researchers estimate that more than 8 billion tons of plastic have been produced since early 1950s. Between 60 and 70% of that plastic has ended up in either landfills or fragile ecosystems. It is evident that our current system of production, consumption and disposal has become unsustainable and it is imperative for everyone, from individuals to large organizations, to rethink the way we design and consume our products. By reducing the amount of waste produced and reusing existing “recyclable” materials, we can all make a difference in conserving natural resources and preserving the future of the new generations.

INEOS Composites understands the challenge and wants to be part of the solution by enabling a circular economy environment in which materials constantly flow around closed systems rather than being used once and wasted.

Creating viable markets for r-PET

Guided by the expertise and vast experience of our R&D group, we have developed a revolutionary family of recycled PET based unsaturated polyester. For every drum of INEOS PET resin, approximately 1,800 used plastic bottles are diverted from landfills and oceans. In 2019, this initiative already saved close to 55 million of used plastic bottles across Europe.

Our customers are also benefiting from this innovative solution. Providing an added-value recycling element to the composite part makes the composite material even further competitive in times where markets and organizations are transitioning towards more sustainable product solutions. Furthermore, unsaturated polyester resins based on recycled PET are showing a range of outstanding performance properties, that can mechanically outperform their traditional orthophthalic based countertypes.

Comparing elongation at break and tensile strength to traditional “ortho resins” significant improvements can be obtained.  Consequently, those resins can offer additional design flexibility that can enable the production of stronger, lighter and more durable composite parts compared to conventional resin systems.

A new life for plastic waste

Dedicated research and development work over the last 5 years by our key technical experts have led to the successful introduction of this wide range of high-performance PET based resins for their use in multiple markets and applications. From pipes and tanks for complex construction projects to drainage systems and trench drains made of polymer concrete specifically designed for areas of high traffic density. From sophisticated shower trays and customized worktops for the residential and commercial building industry to structural panels for trucks and commercial vehicles. From FRP columns for public lighting or telecommunication antennas to street furniture and other accessories that create a variety of landscape schemes for our cities. But the list does not stop here… Our PET resins are gaining traction in the market as sustainability trends change the way end consumers think.

Immersed in this new era of growing environmentalism, our team is proud of having developed this new family of “green” resins that are giving a new life to used plastic bottles in the form of value-added composite materials. As society, there are certainly things we can do to reduce consumption of plastics, but we understand there will always be cases where plastics are difficult to replace. This project has taught us that turning waste streams into value streams is possible and, by the way, represents an incredible opportunity for business. There is still a long way to go in rethinking supply chains and business models towards a circular economy but finding ways to preserve and even upgrade the value of manufactured goods that have outlived their usefulness is definitely a great starting point.

Creating products that make a difference:

  • Saving natural resources, energy consumption and lowering greenhouse emissions
  • Introducing green/recyclable technologies into our products without sacrificing performance and properties
  • Providing superior strength and flexibility compared to typical standard UPR resins
  • Very good hydrolysis resistance
  • Meeting Lloyd’s Register requirements for marine
  • Cost competitive