Can end-of-life thermoset composites parts and production waste be recycled?

Are there any companies offering this service?

Working on Reinforced Plastics, these are questions I am often asked by composites manufacturers, and potential customers. And the frequency of these questions is increasing, indicating that the composites industry and its customers are no longer content with the traditional disposal routes of landfill and incineration.

Of course, there are also political drivers behind this trend, as legislation is making landfill and incineration more expensive and increasingly restricted, especially in Europe.

In May, I attended the European Composites Industry Association (EuCIA)’s Information Day – Competitive Composites: Sustainability and Recycling Challenges, held at the European Parliament in Brussels, where these issues were debated by around 50 delegates. The outcome of the day definitely seemed to be that ‘composites can be recycled.’ The most promising method at present emerged as the cement kiln route where 100% of the composite waste is ‘recovered’ in the form of energy and raw materials. An industrial scale operation is now in place in Germany, collecting composite waste and end-of-life components (such as wind turbine blades) and delivering them in the appropriate form for use in a cement factory run by Holcim, one of the world’s leading cement companies.

And so what next? Industrial recycling initiatives need to progress and alongside this documentation demonstrating the sustainability of composites needs to be developed for users, and potential users, of composites. The German federation for reinforced plastics, AVK, for instance, is planning to create a sustainability/lifecycle analysis database for composites to act as a promotional tool for the industry. A big task, but an initiative which would certainly help composites companies grow their business in the long term.

Read a more detailed report from the EuCIA Information Day here.