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Recycling of coated and painted textile and plastic materials

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Removable coatings to boost plastic and textile recycling

Technologies used to de-bond layers from coated textiles and painted plastics add to the recycling value chain and grow the circular economy.

Industrial Technologies icon Industrial Technologies

Plastic is a ubiquitous material used in a wide array of consumer goods. While some items made of plastic are recyclable, many products – including electronics, textiles and automotive parts – go to landfill after a single use because they are composed of multiple materials. The European plastics industry aspires to recycle 50 % of all plastic waste by 2040. To support this goal, the EU-funded DECOAT project has developed triggerable de-coating agents to separate chemical components in composite products, leading to greater recyclability of substrate materials. Further, a chemical delamination approach was spearheaded by project partner Fraunhofer IVV, and involved the use of CreaSolv® to recover high-purity materials from complex waste.

Smart additives make triggerable solutions

The project explored the use of agents that could be triggered by heat, humidity, chemicals or microwaves to separate the components of non-recyclable items. Once separated, substrate materials could become part of the circular economy. Two technologies were particularly fruitful: a solvent-based approach to remove a coating, and a heat-triggered layer built into a product so the materials could be separated for recycling. According to project coordinator Guy Buyle: “Both approaches could be demonstrated for coated textiles and painted plastics from the automotive and electronics industry. We demonstrated the removal of the coating and paint so that the bulk material could be recycled.”

Design of pilot plants

Current recycling facilities rely on mechanical, chemical or melt technologies that are typically not suited for coated materials. New methods of decomposing materials into recyclable products require a redesign of recycling facilities. Recycling plants of the future will identify the additive used in a product so that the correct triggering agent can be deployed. Dyes can assist with optical sorting, making sure that coated materials are sent to the correct processing device. While DECOAT focused on the recovery of substrate materials, the project also kept an eye on recovering the coating and paint materials removed in the process.

Adding value to the circular economy

The DECOAT process has the potential to revolutionise recycling. Its full market deployment is projected to lead to a 75 % decrease in landfilling and a 30 % reduction in the carbon footprint of targeted products. Furthermore, the adoption of de-coating in the recycling industry stands to add roughly 500 jobs and EUR 150 million to the economy. Before the potential of the project’s debonding and sorting technologies can be realised, the technological readiness level of the procedures must be advanced. Buyle says: “Steps need to be taken to find relevant stakeholders who are able to invest in semi-industrial pilot lines, allowing us to upscale these technologies. Bringing the necessary circular value chain actors together is of paramount importance.” As the DECOAT process nears market uptake, many aspects of the value chain will need to be redesigned. This includes recycling facilities and product manufacturers, but consumer attitudes are implicated as well. For example, in one of its use cases the project achieved very good results in its debonding pilot, but the resulting product did not meet aesthetic standards due to a rougher surface. DECOAT’s partners will continue to fine-tune technologies, but as Buyle states: “It is clear that a certain mentality shift at nearly all steps along the circular value chain will be needed to allow for these debonding solutions.”

Keywords

DECOAT, de-bonding, textile recycling, circular economy, plastic recycling, , CreaSolv®, circular economy, triggerable additives

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