Environmental concerns are increasingly important to consumers, governments, and employees. For manufacturers of thermoplastic technical textiles, the disposal of waste materials (scrap) is an increasingly important environmental concern. Disposing of this large amount of scrap in a landfill is undesirable and costly. The responsible action is to either reuse or recycle this material. Today, we’ll look at these two options: reuse vs. recycle, to help you decide which is best for you.
Technically, thermoplastic-coated textiles can be recycled. Chemical processes exist that can retrieve the coating, base material, additives, glues, as well as the chemical solutions used in the dissolution process. Let’s take a look at the basic chemical recycling processes and recycling’s feasibility.
Chemical recycling mechanically grinds the material then introduces chemical solutions that breakdown the polymer materials into their chemical parts. This is a multiple-step process that typically involves first using a physical method to masticate the textile. This can be shredding, grinding, or beating and may include a sieving step. For polyurethanes, the process then involves putting the resulting mash in a bath of solvents to reduce the material to its chemical components, one of which is the polyols, a raw material used to make polyurethanes. The polyols are separated from the other compounds, cleaned, condensed into a powder or pellets, and then used to create new coating material. A similar process of separating the fabric from the coating is used for PVC recycling as well. There are several general types of chemical recycling processes. Which one is used depends on what the initial material is and the desired end result. They are:
- Glycolysis: The application of co-monomer diols ( such as ethylene glycol) at high heat.
- Hydrolysis: The application of water and various intermediate chemicals.
- Pyrolysis: The application of high heat in an oxygen free environment.
- Hydrogenation: The application of heat, pressure, and hydrogen.
The chemical processes that are used in the recycling of thermoplastic-coated materials are well-understood and are reasonably safe. Because most of the chemicals used during the process are reused, the process itself can have minimal impact on the environment. Unfortunately, chemical recycling of coated textiles is still expensive, suffers from logistical issues, and a lack of process flexibility. So, few plants have been built, though there a few in Europe. This makes recycling expensive at a minimum, and impossible most of the time. Frequently, the most viable recycling is through reuse.
The most successful waste-reduction efforts focus on extending new-product service life and reusing scraps and old products that have exceeded their useful lives. Erez is active in both these areas. Reusing material avoids the costs and energy consumption of the recycling processes and substantially increases the material’s life span. This usually makes reuse more cost effective and environmentally sound than recycling. In fact, scraps can be gainfully shipped internationally for reuse in many different applications. There are a variety of business and life-style products that can be created from high-quality manufacturing scraps and non-standard material, as well as from coated textiles that have already completed their first product lifecycle. The used or scrap textiles are made into secondary products used in applications such as:
- Subsistence agriculture— irrigation channels, rainwater collection tanks, livestock drinking water pools, and bins for the collection of agricultural produce like nuts and olives.
- Building— roof covers for houses.
- Furniture— cut into strips, the textiles are used to weave mattresses, bed frames, and chairs.
Designing Product Lifecycle
Doing the right thing for the environment can increase sales, regulatory compliance, and consumer trust, leading to increased profits—and all while helping the environment. If you are interested in moving toward a more environmentally-friendly product lifecycle, Erez can help you assess your situation and design solutions. Contact an Erez specialist today and let us show you how.