How can waste fibre-reinforced polymer material become more circular?

How can waste fibre-reinforced polymer material become more circular?

A new study explores the best way to pursue a circular economy in the management of waste fibre-reinforced polymer material in the UK.

The report was funded by the UK’s National Composites Centre and Innovate UK, and prepared by Composites UK, Scott Bader and Renuables. The stakeholders sought to explore and detail the most effective path towards a circular economy for waste fibre-reinforced polymer material, examining environmentally and economically sustainable solutions.

The study examines in depth the possibilities for the disposal or recycling of glass fibre-reinforced polymer, which uses a thermoset resin, but the strategies detailed may also be relevant to thermoset carbon fibre-reinforced polymer; this can currently be recycled by pyrolysis, but this is a prohibitively expensive procedure.

What is the scale of the challenges involved?

According to the report, around 6,200 tonnes of glass fibre-reinforced polymer waste is created each year in the UK, while up to 75,000 tonnes of end-of-life waste could also be generated. Further, this looks set to grow, with waste fibre-reinforced polymer material increasing in the construction and automotive sectors, among others.

Already, fibre-reinforced polymer material can be ground up and reused in products such as construction board, polymer concrete, spray up and moulding compounds, and other cast products. However, the report calls for a reinforcement of infrastructure, additional funding and international collaboration in order to ensure that the management of this waste can be undertaken sustainably.

What impact could circular economy policies have in this sector?

Jean-Claude Pierre, CEO of Scott Bader, stressed that the recycling of fibre-reinforced polymer materials could make a significant contribution to efforts to combat climate change, as long as circular economy solutions are effectively pursued.

He said: “Composites have an important role in the drive to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to lessen our reliance on fossil fuel, however, composites can never be truly sustainable until we have suitable options for their end-of-life management… Composites can be part of the circular economy and I encourage partners across the composites value chain to join us on this exciting journey to make sustainable composites a reality.”

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