The world’s two biggest polysytrene makers, Ineos and Trinseo, have chosen a small UK “green tech” company to help build Europe’s first plants to recycle the polluting material.
The duo have selected Recycling Technologies as the technology partner to the plan to develop commercial scale recycling plants of polystyrene.
Widely used in food packaging because of its protective and insulating properties, polystyrene is currently mostly either burned or thrown into landfill.
The first plant will be built this year on a trial in Swindon with full, commercial operations then being launched by Ineos in Wingles, France and by Trinseo in Tessenderio, Belgium next year.
It comes as a major win for Recycling Technologies, which was set up by automotive engineer Adrian Griffiths, in 2011.
So far, the group’s technologies have been funded by Crowdcube and private placements of capital, and it is currently backed by Finnish petrochemicals group Neste and environmental investor Mirova.
However, its selection by Ineos and Trinseo today will fuel speculation of a potential stock market flotation to take its innovations further.
The company is currently focused on developing small plastics recycling machines that can be easily installed in towns’ recycling centres.
The machine converts waste plastics into a material that can then be used to make new plastic.
The polystyrene technology aims to turn waste back into its chemical building blocks, stripping out the polymer. It can then be “repolymerised” back into polystyrene with exactly the same properties as “virgin” polystyrene.
Not only would that resolve the landfill problem, but the process appears to use significantly less greenhouse gas emissions than making polystyrene from new naptha.
Griffiths said the collaboration with the two chemicals giants was recognition of his technology’s ability to make the life cycle of polystyrene “circular”.
Nicholas Joly, vice president of plastics and feedstocks at Tinrseo said: “Polystyrene turns out to be a wonderful polymer. Not only is depolymerisation an effective recycling method, but it also allow for recycling” while staying within strict guidelines for food packaging.