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PVC has been one of the most widely used plastics globally since the middle of the 20th century. Nevertheless, there are hardly any sustainable recycling processes that allow environmentally friendly reuse of PVC.
Simon Windels and Prof. Dirk De Vos from KU Leuven, in close cooperation with Thomas Diefenhardt and Martin Schlummer from Fraunhofer Institute for Process Engineering and Packaging (IVV) amongst others, analysed how to deal with the large amounts of legacy plasticisers that occur during the recovery of post-consumer PVC waste. In their newest publication on “Catalytic upcycling of PVC waste-derived phthalate esters into safe, hydrogenated plasticisers”, published in the Green Chemistry Journal (Issue 2, 2022), they’re taking up the challenge of finding a feasible solution to deal with legacy phthalate plasticisers that have been used in PVC recipes before their banning. The scientists could demonstrate the full conversion of these end-of-life legacy phthalate esters to a safer analogue alternative with the help of a coupled (trans)esterification–hydrogenation process. The safe cyclohexanedicarboxylates, as well as the recycled PVC, can then be reused for the production of new PVC floor coverings.
With these new insights and methodology on the full conversion of legacy phthalate esters, the authors are setting a new standard and creating a pathway for an environmentally friendly recycling process for end-of-life PVC flooring material and mark an important step towards implementing efficient PVC recycling strategies for a circular economy.