Polypropylene (PP) is a versatile thermoplastic polymer commonly used for making a number of household containers, medical components, automotive parts, casings for various commercial products, and fabrics. Following consumer use, PP is typically sent to a landfill, incinerated with/without energy recovery, or recycled, depending on specific waste management regulations and processing economics.
Generally, plastic recycling can be performed in a number of ways, with varying degrees of complexity: in primary or closed-loop recycling, plastics are recycled into products similar to the starting material; in secondary or open-loop recycling, plastics are typically reprocessed into lower-value products; in tertiary recycling, plastics are returned to their monomeric form via thermochemical treatments like pyrolysis or gasification; in quaternary recycling, plastics are used as an energy fuel, to generate electricity, heat or steam. The environmental benefits of recycling PP and certain other plastics include a reduction in the amount of virgin PP used during product manufacture and diversion of PP from landfills.
However, a careful assessment of the commercial viability of PP recycling is necessary. Post-consumer plastic recycling is a multi-step process that involves collection, sorting, cleaning, and reprocessing. Each of these steps requires careful consideration as they tend to involve a series of smaller steps since post-consumer plastics like PP are not only contaminated with waste matter, but also contain additives such dyes, inorganics like calcium carbonate, and, in some cases, other thermoplastics like polyethylene. Such impurities affect recycled polypropylene’s mechanical or physicochemical properties, thus decreasing their recyclate value.
Substantial research on this is ongoing in various parts of the world, as there is a growing collective awareness of the impact of PP and other plastics on our environments. Emerging technologies are keen on purifying PP waste to a near-virgin state using a combination of chemical treatment processes. Partnerships are being formed between PP producers, additives manufacturers, and PP recyclers.
Polypropylene is the second most widely produced thermoplastic (after polyethylene) and is manufactured using chain growth polymerization via Zigler-Natta catalysis. The global market for polypropylene is expected to be $156B by the year 2026. Polypropylene has a melting point that ranges between 130 to 171 deg.C, depending upon crystallinity and tacticity, and is relatively inexpensive compared to other thermoplastics. It is used in rigid and flexible packaging, injection molded parts, carpeting, ropes, non-woven goods, textiles, and filters.
The credentials that one might expect to see in an expert in the field of polypropylene would include a degree (B.S., M.S., or Ph.D.) in chemistry or polymer science coupled with a career in the area of thermoplastics and polymers, especially polypropylene. An expert in the area of polypropylene would be able to assist a client with selecting the grade and type of polypropylene or propylene copolymers for a given application, guidance on the appropriate additives for thermal and UV stability, adhesion promoters, IP strategy, performance attributes, and processing guidance.
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