A trio of companies is joining forces in a project they say will close the loop on polystyrene recycling, and a representative for one of the partners believes the approach will fundamentally change how PS is viewed in the recycling market.
ReVital Polymers Inc. of Sarnia, Ontario, will use Pyrowave Inc.'s Catalytic Microwave Depolymerization technology to create monomers that will be used by Ineos Styrolution.
"Polystyrene, with this technology, can be the most recycled resin in the plastics industry," said Keith Bechard, chief commercial officer for ReVital Polymers, during a hallway phone interview from Halifax, Nova Scotia.
"That's a when, not an if," he said shortly after making a presentation at the G7 Ministerial Meeting on Working Together on Climate Change, Oceans and Clean Energy Sept. 19
"Why this project is so important is because it really knocks down the barriers we've had to polystyrene recovery. Polystyrene is a popular resin, but it has a poor track record of recovery," said Jocelyn Doucet, CEO of Pyrowave.
Pyrowave uses microwaves for "fast de-polymerization" within units that will be able to process 50-100 kilograms per 30-minute cycle. These units will be able to handle between 400 and 1,200 tons per year, and an operator such as ReVital can operate many on-site units depending on need.
"The equipment converts mixed plastics, with or without food contamination, into predominately oil containing valuable waxes and monomers. These products are sold to chemical companies that reuse the monomers and waxes," according to Pyrowave's website.
Pyrowave has a demonstration unit operating in Montreal, but this will be the first full-scale commercial operation of the technology.
Doucet expects the unit to be up and running during the second quarter of 2019. He declined to put a price on development of the first unit as he believes the costs will decrease as more and more machines are deployed in the future.
Pyrowave's technology is built in a 40-foot container that can be placed at recycling facilities to handle the PS stream.
"It's a gamechanger for us as well," said Ricardo Cuetos, vice president of standard products in the Americas for Ineos.
"We finally will be able to avoid wasting high value material that [would] go to the landfill with this new technology. We will be able to obtain the styrene monomer back and integrate that styrene monomer back into a manufacturing process to produce brand new virgin polystyrene," Cuetos said from the same hallway.
"For us, we will avoid, basically, landfill and we will be able to reduce all of the material back into the process and really close the loop," he said.
Ineos is working on a handful of projects around the world to create effective PS recycling, including other work with Agilyx Corp. in Tigard, Ore.
Polystyrene, both expanded and rigid forms, is recycled, but not as extensively as fellow resins PET and high density polyethylene.
EPS, in particular, is in a fight for its life in some communities which believe the material cannot be effectively recaptured and recycled.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, for example, has been vocal about his disdain for EPS, and the city has been trying to ban the material for years.
A ban on single-use foam items including plates, cups, trays and clamshells currently is slated to go into effect Jan. 1. The ban, which includes a six-month grace period before fines, also will include packing peanuts.
Non-profit groups and businesses doing less than $500,000 in sales can apply for hardship waivers, the city said.
"What we've done through this technology and consortium is we've managed to link the industry from post-consumer product collection through to transformation into a virgin resin through Pyrowave's technology and Ineos Styrolution," Bechard said.
"That really is a game changer and is beginning to introduce polystyrene as one of the most recyclable and recycled resins in the industry, that's what's important to us," he said.
While the process uses recycled PS as a feedstock, the end products made from the recaptured resin are considered to be virgin material, the companies said.
ReVital calls itself one of the "most advanced recovery facilities in North America" that combines container recovery operations with a plastics recovery facility, or PRF, in a single location.
In 2017, ReVital breathed new life in to the Sarnia facility that had been closed by Entropex LLC in 2016 due to the depressed commodity prices for recycled resin.
Emmie Leung, founder of waste and recycling company Emterra Group, and Tony Moucachen, founder of Merlin Plastics Group, successfully bid on the closed site and reopened the facility under the ReVital name.
"We really try to push the circular economy, closing the loop. We really ty to help these new technologies that can break down polystyrene to the original building blocks so we can actually use that recycled styrene monomer and put it back into the system and really avoid landfill of that material," Cuetos said.
"We really want to bring value for the environment and also for the industry to really show the benefits of this new technology," he said.
The G7, also known as the Group of Seven, includes Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States. Russia formerly was in the group, then called the G8, but was suspended in 2014.
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