Five years ago, environmentalists were calling for polystyrene to be banned. Greenpeace described it as a 'problem plastic' because it was 'very difficult' to recycle. But that was then; this is now.
Next year a pilot plant will be built in the UK to test whether polystyrene can be successfully recycled on a commercial scale.
If the trials with Trinseo and Recycling Technologies are a success, INEOS Styrolution will invest in a commercial, polystyrene recycling plant in France – and Trinseo will build one in Belgium.
UK-based Recycling Technologies Ltd are the brains behind the pioneering technology that will allow polystyrene to be used, and reused, over and over again without losing any of its quality.
“This business was born out of a global environmental crisis,” said CEO and founder Adrian Griffiths. “We share a common sense of urgency and a burning passion for our planet.”
Since it was formed in 2011, it has been developing the technology to recycle mixed plastic waste.
“Our core technology was initially targeted at polyolefins, but we started to adapt it to polystyrene for INEOS in 2018,” he said.
For two years INEOS Styrolution has funded Recycling Technologies Ltd’s research to find a solution to turn polystyrene back into a virgin oil. And it is research that has paid off.
Producing recycled polystyrene from polystyrene, instead of gas, will also lead to a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.
“INEOS Styrolution and Trinseo are the two biggest polystyrene producers in Europe with whom we share the vision to make polystyrene a circular material,” said Adrian.
Polystyrene has served society for almost 100 years and was one of the first polymers to be used commercially.
Today it is used to package fresh food because it helps to reduce the amount of food being wasted.
But it is most widely used to package and protect white goods during transit.
Initially Recycling Technologies will be focusing on single-use polystyrene packaging, which makes up almost half of polystyrene uses.
But it will also be collecting and recycling dairy packaging, such as yogurt pots, food trays and vacuum-formed plastic cups.
“Historically polystyrene has been difficult to recycle and it is not collected in the household recycling waste stream which makes it difficult to find.” said Adrian.
But the three companies, which will be working together, are determined to make it work.
“We are convinced that a combination of technology, innovation and determination can make a true difference to today’s world,” said Adrian.
“We believe plastic is a great material and an integral part of the solution to reducing our carbon footprint.”
The polystyrene waste is shredded and then fed into a thermal cracker where it is turned back into an oil, which is good as the original.