Characterization of Composition and Structure-Property Relationships of Commercial Post-Consumer Polyethylene and Polypropylene Recyclates
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The current efforts in moving closer towards a circular plastics economy puts massive pressure on recycled plastics, especially recycled polyethylene (rPE) and recycled polypropylene (rPP) to enter new markets. Their market penetration remained low so far, despite PE and PP constituting the largest share of plastic wastes. However, with the current imperative of more circularity comes a new focus on performance of recyclates. Hence, a detailed understanding of composition and structure?property relationships of post-consumer recyclates has to be developed. Five recycling companies from the Austrian and German markets were asked to supply their purest high-quality rPE and rPP grades. These were characterized by differential scanning calorimetry (DSC), thermo-gravimetric analysis (TGA), and Fourier-transform infrared (FTIR) spectroscopy, and micro-imaging. Technological characterization included density measurements, determination of the melt flow rate (MFR), and Charpy impact testing. All recyclates contained diverse contaminants and inclusions ranging from legacy fillers like calcium carbonate to polymeric contaminants like polyamides or polyolefin cross-contamination. The overall amount, size, and distribution of contaminants varied significantly among suppliers. Furthermore, first structure?property relationships for polyolefin recyclates that link inorganic content and polymeric purity with density and impact performance could be derived.