Polyurethanes and sustainability
The Earth's resources are limited and it is vital that we only take what we need and do our share to protect what is left for future generations. Polyurethanes play a crucial role in preserving the natural resources of our planet. Durable polyurethane coatings ensure that the lifetime of many products is extended well beyond what would be achieved without the coating. Polyurethanes help to save energy sustainably. They help architects to better insulate buildings which reduces the consumption of gas, oil and electricity, which would otherwise be needed to heat and cool them. Thanks to polyurethanes automotive producers can design their vehicles more attractively and construct lighter frames which save on fuel consumption and emissions. Moreover, polyurethane foams used to insulate refrigerators mean that food is preserved longer and saves it from going to waste.
As well as saving energy and protecting valuable resources, there is now increased focus on ensuring that polyurethane products are not simply discarded or disposed of when they reach the end of their natural life.
Because polyurethanes are petrochemical-based polymers, it is important that we recycle them whenever possible, so that precious raw materials do not go to waste. There are various recycling options, including mechanical, chemical and feedstock recycling. Click below for further information:
Recycling and recovery of polyurethanes fact sheet
Driving with polyurethanes
Depending on the type of polyurethane, different ways of recycling can be applied, such as grinding and reuse or particle bonding. Polyurethane foam, for example, is regularly turned into carpet underlay.
If it is not recycled, the preferred option is energy recovery. Tonne for tonne, polyurethane contains the same amount of energy as coal, which makes it a very efficient feedstock for municipal incinerators that use the energy generated to heat public buildings.
The least desired option is landfill, which should be avoided wherever possible. Fortunately, this option is on the decline as governments around the world become increasingly aware of the value of waste for both recycling and energy recovery, and as countries exhaust their landfill capacity.
The polyurethane industry is also continuously innovating to produce a more sustainable material.