Book Review: Recycling of Plastics

Article by David Hobson CEng MIChemE

Norbert Niessner; ISBN: 9781569908563; Hanser Publications; 2022; US$249.99

In recent years plastics have been vilified, and in many regards this stance has been right and fair. Plastic pollution is a scourge of modern society with single-use plastics clogging waterways and damaging the environment, while the implications of microplastics on human health are only just beginning to be understood. Amidst everything they have to answer for, the importance and benefits of plastics are often forgotten or ignored. Plastics are essential to modern healthcare and help minimise food waste, and many of the issues attributed to plastics are, in fact, the result of inadequate waste infrastructure around the world or are failures of our linear economy.

It is here that Norbert Niessner’s Recycling of Plastics starts, with a balanced introduction of plastics and a case for why we can and should recycle them.

As described in the analysis Plastics - The Facts1: “Plastics have made it possible for us to push the limits and go further, faster and safer than we have dared to go before,” which is precisely why this book is so important.

Sections on chemical and mechanical recycling of plastics – including, but not limited to polyolefins, polyethylene terephthalate (PET), and styrenics – are the heart of the book. Each technology is discussed in depth, and while no fix-all solution is presented the roles and benefits of mechanical, chemical, and solvent-based recycling are explained. Also, each section logically guides you though the technical details. For polymer recycling by dissolution, solvent selection is well explained and followed by an overview of unit operations and some market background. Having worked on the development of a pilot scale post-consumer waste solvent recycling process, I recognise that some of the challenges we faced with contamination and the requirement for mechanical preparation are not discussed. But, I appreciate that each technology subsection is only about 20 pages and includes considerable detail, if not coverage of all aspects.

Article by David Hobson CEng MIChemE

Engineering lead, Axion Recycling

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