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Recycling Pesky Polyurethane Products

PU’s (polyurethanes) are used in a variety of products and materials. Everything from shoes, insulation, furniture, bedding, sealants, adhesives, vehicles, house materials, and many more products contain it. Over time the products break down and create waste. Think about how many mattresses you have had in your lifetime. Typically, we simply replace these products with new ones containing PU’s. The most common type of PU products is foam inside furniture, vehicle seats, and bedding. These petrochemical resins can be harmful to the respiratory system causing asthma and other respiratory ailments. Recycling PU’s has been a challenge for the industry. Most products containing PU’s cannot be fully recycled and are typically cycled down to create materials that aren’t very useful, or of the same quality as the original product that contains them.

Polyurethanes are polymers made of multiple organic compounds connected by urethane links. PU’s are thermosetting polymers that do not respond to heat which is necessary for recycling other plastics. The collection of strong polymers held together through chemical bonds won’t liquidate when heated. You never burn a mattress because of the VOCs and other toxic fumes the flame will put off.

Scientists and researchers have developed a new method that is more favorable for recycling PU’s. This groundbreaking research will be a watershed for the goal of zero landfill waste and manufacturers. The researchers discovered a way to saturate the PU in a solution that allows the material to be reformed into similar, or better products. According to a paper published in acs.org (ACS Central Science) the team applied diverse crosslink exchange chemistry combined with processing methods to recycle traditional PU foams into rubber and plastic.

The process is called a “twin-screw extrusion” methodology. This figure explains the process from the ACS Central Science article. Researchers are doing this with PU foam and converting/recycling them into films with properties that closely mirror the properties of other films from similar compounds.

At Pinnacle Environmental Services Inc., our goal is zero-landfill waste. We are vigilant in our pursuit of reducing carbon footprints, effective waste stream management, and recycling for the environment and our customers. These efforts and similar ones by scientists and researchers is helping us keep the planet green. We are committed to helping our customers save money, reduce waste, recycle, and properly dispose of other forms of waste into renewable energy and other forms. Our services are personalized with a custom-designed plan for your business, or organization. We meet with our customers and do a walkthrough of their facilities/operations to develop a customized plan that meets your budget and needs. We recognize every waste stream is a cost to your company. Our comprehensive audit not only helps reduce waste-and its cost to your operations- but it also identifies the optimal disposal and recycling options for all that remains.

Mike Watts, President

Pinnacle Environmental Services, Inc.

864.236.5450