Research at the Department of Industrial and Materials Science includes the study of new sustainable materials and recycled plastic. Professor Antal Boldizar shows a couple of newly developed corks made of a bio-composite material.

​Standardization promotes better recycling of plastics

In Sweden, almost one million tonnes of plastic are used every year. The proportion of recycled plastic is fairly high compared with that in other EU-countries, but ambitions are high, particularly against the background of the new tough recycling demands which come into force in 2020. In order to make the cyclic process more effective, a joint language is required, a standard for the recycling of plastic. The Swedish Standards Institute,
SIS, has accepted the challenge and Professor Antal Boldizar is a member of the expert group. 
Plastics are complex and controversial materials from an environmental perspective. A broad range of plastic materials are used in the manufacturing industry, since they are relatively resource-efficient, design-friendly and light in weight, but there are disadvantages in that they are based on fossil-fuels and degrade very slowly, and garbage sorting at source is an important first step towards the achievement of a cyclic system in which plastics can be re-used for new purposes.

Chalmers has a strong competence in this field, in for example Antal Boldizar, Professor in the Department of Industrial and Materials Science, whose work focuses on environment-adapted polymeric structural materials.  He is leader of a Polymeric Materials and Composites research group devoted to the study of the relationships between the structure, processing and functional properties of polymeric materials, such as polymeric composites reinforced with cellulose fibres. The recycling of plastics and the use of bio-plastics are other strong fields.

Sweden takes the lead in developing a new joint Standard
Now that Sweden through SIS is taking a joint initiative with regard to the future sustainable use of plastics, Antal is one of the experts in the group which will work on the terminology and standardization of recycled plastics.
”I‘m looking forward to it.  It is an important field for both society and industry.  One can say that standardization is the industrial language”, says Antal, and continues: “there is a great need for a clear terminology.  Many new concepts are used indistinctly and the industry requires greater clarity with regard to terminology and standards.”

Johan Dahlgren (to the right), the project leader at SIS, agrees.
”We are working to develop clearer definitions relating to plastics in a cyclic economy.  It is important that all the actors in the value-chain use the same terminology, in order for example to be able to compare and evaluate results.  A Standard can be seen as a joint solution of a recurrent problem.  It is in everyone’s interest to raise quality, to avoid misunderstanding and to avoid reinventing the wheel every time.”

Many different perspectives are required
Johan Dahlgren says further that a major task of the working group is to contribute to the future sustainable use of plastics. A key feature is the recycling of plastics, but bio-plastics are also an interesting field.
”Standardization is often applied research strongly linked to the work of academia. Unfortunately, universities and colleges are not always able to participate in the SIS committees because of the participation fees”, says Johan Dahlgren, ”but at the same time it is important that as many perspectives as possible are represented to ensure that the Standards are good. It is therefore valuable that Antal Boldizar is able to contribute with his knowledge and opinions from his research perspective.”       
Recycled plastic from electronic waste
It normally takes between 18 months and three years to develop a Standard. The first step is to clarify the need for standardization in a given sector and that report is expected to be available by the end of 2019.   What questions are important now at the start?
”About 40 % of the plastics used in Sweden is now being recycled,” says Antal, “a large and readily available part of the recycled plastic in Sweden comes from industrial spillage, i.e. waste from the manufacturing process.  There is a good reason for this – the material has not been contaminated or aged.  It is in effect a new material with known properties easy to use in a manufacturing process.”
“But how much of the plastic recovered from old materials can be reused?” asks Antal and continues, ”a couple of years ago we had a successful project where Erik Stenvall, a doctoral student with us, studied plastic components recovered from electronic waste and showed that 100 % can be reused, but that the process parameters need to differ considerably from those used in the processing of new material.”
“Now, I hope to be able to contribute to the development of a clearer picture of the technical potential of recycled material, and the functional properties which can be achieved through e.g. suitable melt-processing.  In this context, we are especially interested in cooperation with the industry, in order to be able better to work with processes on a large scale” finishes Antal Boldizar.

Read more about Antal Boldizar
Recycled plastic from electronics scrap
Read more about SIS

FACTS - SIS group for environmental aspects of plastic
The group influences content for new standards such as CEN and ISO, and develops a basis for new standards (eg test methods, processes, terminology, classifications).
Participants: Avfall Sverige, Borealis, Chalmers, Electrolux, Fortum Waste Solutions, Håll Sverige Rent, IKEM, Mondi, Naturskyddsföreningen, Perstorp, Ragn-Sells, RISE, SIS, SPIF, Swerea IVF, Tetra Pak, and Trioplast.

Text: Carina Schultz
Översättning: J Anthony Bristow
Photo: Sten Jansin (portrait Johan Dahlgren) and Carina Schultz

Published: Fri 10 Aug 2018.