For decades, the flame retardant HBCD was used in PS-foam insulation boards, but has been classified as persistent organic pollutant (POP) in 2013. HBCD could be used until the so-called “sunset date” (21 August 2015). After that date, only authorized applications were allowed in the EU. A best practice for the handling of PS-foam waste containing HBCD is needed to keep valuable resources in the loop. With the innovative CreaSolv® Technology based on a Solvent-based Purification process, an industry-scale recycling process for PS-foam waste containing HBCD is now available. This technology has been accepted by the UNEP Basel Convention as a Best Available Technology (BAT) to handle PS-foam waste containing HBCD.
PolyStyreneLoop works with the CreaSolv® Technology based on a Solvent-based Purification/Dissolution, combined with the safe destruction of the HBCD. PS-foam waste is selectively dissolved using a specific proprietary solvent formulation (not dangerous acc. to GHS). A dissolution is a physical separation process wherein the polymer only changes its physical state (solid-liquid-solid) but not its composition and is therefore considered as “Physical Recycling”. It is a pre-treatment technology, which has the capability to recover polystyrene and separate it from the legislated additive HBCD. The process consists of three steps. Steps 1 and 2 are pre-treatments for step 3.
- PS foam waste is dissolved in tanks containing a PS-specific liquid. The solid impurities (adhesives, dirt, cement and the like) are separated through filtration and then incinerated.
- Another liquid is added, which transforms the dissolved PS into a gel, while the additive (HBCD) stays in the remaining liquid. The PS gel is then separated from the process liquids. Once cleaned, the gel is transferred via a devolatizer and extruder into granulated polystyrene polymer. The remaining liquid with the additive HBCD is distilled and re-used in a closed loop; the additives including HBCD, remain as sludge.
- The safe destruction of the HBCD additive within the sludge is done in the Bromine Recovery Unit (BRU) of ICL. The BRU is a high temperature waste incinerator at 1100 C˚. During the last step, the elemental bromine, used for modern flame retardants, is recovered and can be re-used to produce new products, thus closing the bromine loop as well.
The applied technology turns PS-foam waste into new high-quality polystyrene polymer without changing its composition. During the recycling process, all impurities as well as the flame retardant HBCD are safely removed and destroyed, while the valuable polystyrene and bromine component are recovered.
PolyStyreneLoop offers the technical solution for a Circular Economy for PS-foam demolition waste containing HBCD. In 2018 it was estimated that approx. 81,000 tons PS-foam demolition waste containing HBCD was generated in Europe. As HBCD was applied for many decades the tonnage will further increase in coming years, expecting that in 2050 150,000 tons of PS-foam demolition waste containing HBCD will be collected annually. This is equal to the volume of over 45 million sea containers! This is a considerable large urban mine we do not want to go to waste. Especially since we can offer a recycling solution that keeps valuable resources in the economic loop to be used for new products instead of having to extract virgin materials.
PolyStyreneLoop offers a solution that is good for people, planet and profit.
PolyStyreneLoop is an initiative from the entire PS-foam value chain. On voluntary basis we have come together as a cooperative to offer a sustainable recycling solution for HBCD-containing PS-foam demolition waste and thereby take responsibility of our products. We want to contribute to the Circular Economy by keeping and bringing back valuable resources. We are convinced and committed to create a change. But we can only do this together with all stakeholders in the PS-foam value chain: raw material producers, flame retardant producers, converters, waste collection and waste testament. All must participate. That is the strength of this initiative!
PolyStyreneLoop is based on the CreaSolv® Technology developed by CreaCycle GmbH and Fraunhofer IVV. This technology allows PSLoop to produce a high-quality Loop-PS recyclate to be applied as raw-material for the production of new X-EPS (extruded expanded polystyrene) and XPS (extruded polystyrene) insulation products. The solvents used in the CreaSolv® Formulations are non-flammable and non-carcinogenic (not classified acc. to GHS), thereby offering a process that is both safe for the environment and health.
The HBCD concentration in EPS (expanded polystyrene) is typically between 1,000 and 9,000 ppm and for XPS (extruded polystyrene) between 6,000 and 14,000 ppm. According to EU regulation 1357/2014 material containing less than 30,000 ppm (3%) of HBCD is not classified as hazardous waste.
PS-foam containing HBCD is therefore not hazardous waste.
Membership, roles and representatives
The PolyStyreneLoop Cooperative is an organisation under Dutch law. Members of the Cooperative are industry representatives from the whole polystyrene foam value chain: Producers of styrene and polystyrene, expanded polystyrene (EPS and XPS) and flame retardants. EPS foam converters, waste handling companies, recyclers, demolishers and national and European associations.
Our mission is to offer a solution for PS-foam waste containing HBCD and to contribute the transition into a Circular Economy. Associations play an important role in defining industry policies, estimating the quantity and the geographic distribution of the waste streams across countries, organising the collaboration within the PS-foam value chain and reaching out to regulators to influence the EU and national regulatory framework. It also is also of importance that recycling targets are binding and that regulations steer subsidies and penalties into the right direction supporting a Circular Economy.
EUMEPS - European Manufacturers of EPS
EXIBA - The European Extruded Polystyrene Insulation Board Association
The PolyStyreneLoop cooperative is open for companies and associations across the PS-foam value chain to join: producers of styrene and polystyrene, expanded polystyrene (EPS and XPS)., and flame retardants. EPS foam converters, waste handling companies, recyclers, demolishers and national and European associations.
Practical and financial participation will be a condition to join the cooperative and bear the PolyStyreneLoop logo. Our business model is based on a close cooperation with all companies in the cooperative and thereby creating added-value for all of them. The feedstock for the PolyStyreneLoop is sourced from our members and the Loop-PS recyclate is only sold to members, who produce new products.
We launch positive publications related to PolyStyreneLoop, offering a sustainable solution and contributing to a transition towards a Circular Economy. Only members and supporters of the Cooperative are entitled to use the registered PolyStyreneLoop brand and logo.
The CreaSolv® Technology based on a Solvent-based Purification (SBP) Dissolution can handle all PS-foam or rigid waste streams. From an economic and environmental point of view, clean EPS packaging waste with a HBCD content below 100 ppm is preferably recycled by mechanical recycling (e.g. grinding, followed by application in EPS block moulding or by compacting, melting and pelletizing). The PSLoop initiative does not want to compete with existing recycling and take-back-schemes for EPS packaging waste that are already considered as material recycling and contribute to recycling quota.
HBCD was identified as substance of high concern by the EU REACH regulation. It was also listed as a Pollutant by the UNEP Stockholm convention. According to the Basel Conventions General Technical Guidelines, advanced solid waste incinerations, hazardous waste incinerations and cement kiln co-incineration are accepted destruction and irreversible transformation methods for the environmentally sound disposal of wastes with an HBCD content above 100mg/kg or 1000 mg/kg. Besides these destruction methodologies the Basel Convention General Technical Guidelines included in May 2017 the PolyStyreneLoop dissolution process as a valid pre-treatment process for PS foam waste for the separation of Polystyrene and HBCD. HBCD subsequently is destroyed with recovery of bromine in the BRU (Bromine Recovery Unit). As EPS foam containing less than 3000 ppm of HBCD, in Europe it is not classified as hazardous waste, (April 2018) and not treated as hazardous waste in most countries.
The environmental performance for the recovery of EPS waste depends on:
- the specific type of waste stream and level of contamination,
- existing recovery infrastructure and
- technologies in the EU member states
- logistic organisation and
- transport distances.
For instance, in case of reliable clean EPS packaging waste, which does not contain HBCD or is suspected in any other way, mechanical recycling remains an excellent recovery option. The EPS waste is crushed and mixed as foam particles to virgin material during block moulding. Alternatively, it could be compacted, melted, followed by extrusion and chopping to General Purpose Polystyrene (GPPS) pellets. These options for mechanical recycling are already applied and economically viable in many EU member states. In case of clean and reliable, often industrial waste feedstocks, this often would be the most economic treatment of such waste. Although the environmental impact of applying PolyStyreneLoop is very positive compared to incineration at End of Life, mechanical recycling is slightly better.
Based on an LCA on EPS insulation material, incineration has a carbon footprint of 72,04 kg CO2-eq while material recycling has a carbon foot print of only 23.96 kg CO2-eq. A reduction of 67%.
Another LCA comparing incineration with PolyStyreneLoop for ETICS shows that the carbon foot print is almost have as low for PSLoop as for incineration, namely 47%.
PS-foam waste that can be treated by mechanical recycling scores the best environmental performance. As this route is not possible for PS-foam waste containing HBCD, treatment via PolyStyreneLoop is clearly preferential to incineration.
In literature and by some first attempts chemical recycling/feedstock recovery options are proposed. The aim of those techniques is to breakdown/depolymerise PS-foam waste. Chemical recovery processes break down the polystyrene polymer to its basic chemical, styrene, which can be used for many chemical processes, or into even smaller molcules. In order to close the loop back to the polymer it needs to undergo polymerisation, e.g. suspension polymerisation to produce EPS. This results in a drawback compared to PolyStyreneLoop: firstly, the costs of polymerisation and secondly the related environmental impact due to the energy needed.
The main benefit of chemical recycling is the option to use contaminated mixed plastics which cannot be treated via conventional recovery processes.
PolyStyreneLoop offers environmental benefits compared to incineration with energy recovery. In 2018 we commissioned FH Münster and TüV Rheinland to do a full LCA (Life Cycle Analysis) according to ISO 14040 and ISO 14044 in all impact categories for the treatment of EPS demolition waste containing HBCD for ETICS applications and compare PolyStyreneLoop to incineration with energy recovery. The outcome was that the environmental impact of PolyStyreneLoop for all impact categories was roughly halved! This means that we can significantly improve the sustainability profile of PS-foam by moving from incineration with energy recovery to PolyStyreneLoop. For such waste streams PolyStyreneLoop is an environmental beneficial recovery route.
Since the LCA study from 2018 we have decided to build an all-electrical plant based on renewable wind energy. We therefore expect that a future LCA will demonstrate an even higher environmental benefit of PolyStyreneLoop!
The main advantages of the CreaSolv® Process and the CreaSolv® Formulations from CreaCycle are:
- The remaining solvents level is reduced to a degree where it does not have any negative impact on the technical properties of the PS-recyclate. The critical technical properties and quality of the Loop-PS recyclate makes it applicable for application in X-EPS and XPS. PolyStyreneLoop thereby enables to close the PS-foam loop for the first time!
- The solvent formulation is neither flammable nor carcinogenic. It is not classified according to GHS, which makes a big difference for all production processes
- The Basel Convention General Technical Guidelines included the CreaSolv® Formulation based purification process as a valid pre-treatment process for PS-foam waste for the separation of polystyrene and HBCD in May 2017. HBCD is safely destroyed with recovery of bromine in the BRU (Bromine Recovery Unit).
The PolyStyreneLoop initiative is about demonstrating the economic and technical feasibility of recycling PS-foam demolition waste containing HBCD. With the PolyStyreneLoop plant in Terneuzen with an annual capacity of 3,300 tons, we move from a technical readiness level (TRL) of 4-5 to 5-7. Once we have demonstrated the success of the first plant, roll out to different locations in Europe is foreseen.
The plant in Terneuzen is located directly next to the Bromine Recovery Unit of ICL, ensuring a short distance for the proper treatment of the HBCD sludge.
The input for the PolyStyreneLoop plant is PS-foam waste containing the Persistent Organic Pollutant (POP) HBCD. As HBCD was added to PS-foam used in the building sector, the input stream for PolyStyreneLoop will come from the demolition or the renovation of older buildings in which PS-foam containing HBCD was used.
Extruded Polystyrene Boards (XPS)
Until 2002, HCFC´s were used as blowing agents in XPS foam, and CFC´s were used before 1990. Both blowing agents are no longer used due to the negative impact they have on the ozone layer. XPS containing (H)CFCs is therefore classified as hazardous waste. PolyStyreneLoop is developing a pre-treatment step, which will allow to safely release and capture the (H)CFC’s and permit the XPS (which still contains HBCD) to be treated in the PolyStyreneLoop plant like any other PS-foam demolition waste containing HBCD.
XPS which has been used in buildings after 2002 is free of (H)CFC blowing agents. To be sure which blowing agent is in the XPS, you need to check the name of the product. The blowing agents present in the boards are conclusively linked with the different product names, which are printed on the XPS boards. With this, the XPS supplier can help you to identify the blowing agent and you can make sure the XPS is properly treated.
All XPS boards with Euroclass E produced before 2015 include HBCD as flame retardant. Therefore, these boards should be recycled by PolyStyreneLoop allowing valuable resources to stay in the economic loop.