Expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam is used extensively throughout Europe as an insulation material. Currently, the amount of EPS construction waste equals 200 kilotonnes per year in Europe and may reach up to 1 000 ktonnes per year in the decades to come. Some 52.5% of this waste is incinerated and the energy recovered, while only 7.5% of EPS waste is recycled. The rest is landfilled or incinerated without energy recovery.
EPS that was produced before 2015 contains the flame retardant Hexabromocyclododecane (HBCD), which has been listed since then as a persistent organic pollutant. A product is no longer allowed to contain more than 100 parts per million of HBCD. Recycling of EPS construction waste is already challenging because of the pollutants (glue, cement residues, etc.) contained within it. It has now become even more so because HBCD must be removed.
The objective of the PSLoop project is to recycle both EPS construction waste and extruded polystyrene (XPS) and to demonstrate an economically viable alternative to incineration. The recycling process is based on the dissolution of PS foam and the removal of the HBCD. The process delivers a PS gel ready for use as a raw material for EPS or XPS. Furthermore, bromine is recovered from the HBCD and recycled.
The project will construct a recycling plant to demonstrate the process on an industrial scale; the process will have already been tested in a pilot plant. The process has been designed to deal with different qualities of input material to maximise internal recycling of the solvent used and to obtain optimised polymers that are in line with virgin quality PS. In addition, the project aims to create a value chain for EPS/XPS with recycling and collection companies by demonstrating a standard collection and pre-treatment system.
The project will have significant climate action implication, given that the PSLoop value chain is much more energy and resource efficient than the production of PS from virgin raw materials. Furthermore, the project contributes to the Circular Economy Action Plan, the Roadmap to a Resource Efficient Europe and the Waste Framework Directive, as it is creating a value chain for EPS/XPS. It also contributes to implementation of the REACH regulation by reducing the impact of chemicals on the environment or human health through their substitution with safer substances.