Material recycling Germany: Making Plastic Products Sustainable

Author / Editor: Linda Kuhn / Lisa Saller, Lisa Saller

Recycling is becoming ever more important in production. Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Structural Durability and System Reliability LBF now investigate how halogen-free flame-retardant plastics can be recycled. This project should also produce results that enable SMEs to cut down costs.

With their new research project, Fraunhofer Institute LBF aims to improve the recycling of halogen-free flame-retardant plastics.
With their new research project, Fraunhofer Institute LBF aims to improve the recycling of halogen-free flame-retardant plastics.
( Fraunhofer-Institut LBF)

There is an ever increasing demand for recycling plastics to a greater extent. The EU plans to improve both the quality and the rate of plastic waste recycling, with a target recycling quota of 70% by 2020.

This also applies to flame retardant plastics, which are increasingly equipped with halogen-free flame retardants. Flame retardants are used to prevent ignition for a certain time or to delay the spread of fire. So far, there is only little data about the recycling of these plastics, despite the fact that with an estimated value of €3bn, they are an important factor on the European market, particularly in the electrical and electronics, construction and transportation industries. The results of the LBF research project are therefore significant for manufacturers of polymers, flame retardants and additives, compounders, masterbatch manufacturers, producers of plastic parts and recycling companies as well as consulting firms.

In light of the above, the Fraunhofer Institute LBF has initiated a new research project to investigate the recycling of halogen-free flame retardant plastics for their polymer technology field. This project should also produce results that enable in particular small- and medium-sized businesses to cut down costs and produce higher quality products with a high safety standard. In Europe, about 70% of flame retardants are so called halogen free PIN-flame retardants, which are manufactured on the basis of phosphorus (P), inorganic substances (I) and nitrogen (N), instead of halogens like bromine or chlorine. Their share will further increase, as they meet user demand to have materials with are sustainable and cost-efficient and provide reliable fire protection in the end application.

Fraunhofer Institute LBF's new multi-year research project should for the first time provide insights into the recyclability of halogen-free flame retardant plastics and find ways to ensure their recyclability. It is also expected to be an important contribution to the socio-political issues of resource efficiency and security. The research is conducted within the framework of project funding from the German Federation of Industrial Research Associations’ industrial collective research (in this case the Plastic Research Association is involved), and with the participation of Pinfa members. Pinfa (Phosphorus, Inorganic & Nitrogen Flame Retardants Association) represents manufacturers and users of halogen-free flame retardants and is part of the European Chemical Industry Council.

Cutting costs through better utilisation of production waste

Businesses could benefit from the new research project in multiple ways: They could better utilise their production waste in flame-retardant formulations and thereby reduce costs. The findings would also lead to improved product quality and a high safety standard and make it possible to identify and compensate potential safety hazards in by-products. Additional competitive advantages could be gained by utilising recycled plastics as a marketing tool and developing new products based on them. Because the Institute uses application-relevant and current commercial formulations, interested businesses can immediately and directly make use of the findings. The project results will also provide a distinct competitive advantage through the recycling of production waste. Risks, such as product liability in connection with the use of recycled material, can be minimized with the acquired data.

Through the planned use of recycled halogen-free flame retardant plastics as materials, the research project would also reduce the need for resources, thereby helping to conserve natural resources and to use them more efficiently. The improved properties (e.g. mechanical characteristics) of recycled plastics would open up new fields of application for these recyclates and new business opportunities. Given a European market volume for halogen-free flame retardant plastics of €3bn, Fraunhofer Institute LBF estimates potential savings through the use of production waste at €150m annually.

Recycling additives play an important role in the quality improvement of material recycling of plastics. With the addition of custom-made stabilisers, compatibilisers and reactive additives, recyclates can achieve a quality that can compete with that of new materials.