End of Life Management for Polyethylene

Image Credit: Jordi Labs

Polyethylene is the most widespread and pervasive synthetic polymer used throughout the world, accounting for over a third of the global annual plastic manufacturing output. In recent years, plastic production has come under considerable environmental scrutiny with current estimates stating that up to 6300 metric tons of plastic waste have been produced to date of which just 9% has been recycled.

Certain US states, including California and Hawaii, as well as 32 countries worldwide, have resolved to prohibit the use of non-recyclable plastic bags in an attempt to minimize the use of disposable polymers. However, synthetic polymers are still crucial to the manufacturing of certain materials that substantially outperform popular alternatives.

Banning plastics at a great scale would have a considerable detrimental effect on overall quality of life and the economy. Therefore, it is crucial to identify newer, state-of-the-art methods for recycling plastics, as well as improving current ones, to address both the environmental and economic concerns.

Rigorous polymer testing can play a major role in limiting the amount of plastic waste produced each year by optimizing the end-of-life applications for numerous commercial polymers. Testing can also be utilized to assist the development of sophisticated techniques for recycling plastics.

Polymer Testing 5 Grades of Polyethylene

Typically, polyethylene has the chemical formula (C2H4)n, however, various methods of polymer testing have led to the characterization of five overarching grades of this polymer. Each of these grades displays the same chemical repeat unit but significantly different thermomechanical characteristics, thus different end-of-life applications. This is largely a function of the comonomers and changes in molecular weight distribution present in the polymer.

  • High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE)
  • High Molecular Weight HDPE
  • Low-Density Polyethylene (LDPE)
  • Linear Low-Density Polyethylene (LLDPE)
  • Ultrahigh Molecular Weight HDPE

Primarily, the fundamental issue relative to environmental concerns regarding polyethylene is the material’s extremely low biodegradability. While polyethylenes of lower density and lower molecular weights will readily degrade they are more susceptible to rapid thermomechanical failure.

Vigorous polymer testing can identify the grade of polyethylene and aid in the development of enhanced recycling techniques and establishing suitable applications for recycled materials.

Research into the practical use of forced degradation of polymers using specialist bacteria necessitates an appropriate understanding of the molecular weight and density profiles of common polymeric products. Furthermore, it is crucial to comprehend the various ways plastics degrade under particular environmental conditions to significantly reduce the production of hazardous microplastics that can penetrate human food chains.

Polymer molecular weight testing can be utilized to optimize end-of-life management for popular plastic products and enhance both service lives and performance to reduce the use of polymeric materials that are widely considered non-recyclable.

Polymer Testing with Jordi Labs

Jordi Labs specializes in custom polymer testing and polymer laboratory analysis for customers in all areas of application. With unparalleled experience and wide-ranging technological capacity, Jordi Labs has assisted in the exploration of the otherwise evasive mechanical properties of some of the most commonly used polymeric materials on earth.

With proven expertise in the study of polyethylene-based products across all five of the primary grades. The novel gel permeation chromatography (GPC) columns from Jordi Labs enable the precise identification of polymer molecular weight distributions. In addition, the spectroscopy methods the company provides can determine the monomeric structure of different polyethylenes to evaluate service length, shelf life, and mechanical stability at end-of-life.

This has assisted customers in the improvement of their products and has eliminated causes of premature failure from production lines to extend product service lives and limit the amount of plastic waste by enhancing polymer quality.

This information has been sourced, reviewed and adapted from materials provided by Jordi Labs.

For more information on this source, please visit Jordi Labs.

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