SPIRIT Ecosystem member Uponor provides solutions for plumbing, radiant heating and cooling, local heat distribution and community infrastructure. Thanks to the pre-phase of the circular plastic pipe project, this global manufacturer of systems that enable moving of water in cities, buildings, and homes, has already been able to produce world’s first circular PEX pipe based on 100% chemically recycled raw materials. The work continues now within SPIRIT programme to expand the waste material pool and grow the recycling volumes.
Cross-linked polyethylene (PEX) pipes are an important contributor to energy efficient heating and safe plumbing due to their robustness, temperature resistance and longevity. Yet the crosslinked polymer chains make them nearly impossible to recycle using conventional recycling technologies.
The newly launched Circular plastic pipes project where Uponor, Wastewise, Borealis and Neste join their forces shows that chemical recycling can close the circularity loop for hard-to-recycle waste plastic, turning it into high-quality polymer feedstock and enabling the consecutive manufacturing of products with quality and properties identical to those in their previous life.
The partnership companies evaluate how to continue their fruitful collaboration in broadening the waste material pool and higher recycled volumes. The aim is to find and develop such recycling streams that can be utilized for pipes, an application which actually brings recycling materials a long lifetime and binds carbon for more than 50-100 years. This means, of course, high property requirements which calls for high quality of the waste materials and their processing steps.
Regarding the goals of the project, Ilari Aho, Vice President, Sustainability & Regulatory Affairs at Uponor, explains: “All own waste from our production should be managed within a closed recycling system. The goals for the yield volumes on construction and demolition sites have not yet been defined, but it is part of the project to understand their potential and size.”
The themes of the project are well aligned with those of SPIRIT programme
It is self-evident for Ilari Aho that SPIRIT programme and the circular plastic pipes project share the same targets. First, we need to maximize the mechanical recycling of polyolefins with high quality for demanding applications in mind. At the same time, we need to use chemical recycling to recycle challenging polyolefin waste, such as PEX. The ultimate long-term goal is also to phase out fossil raw materials and waste. This will result in a situation where business is based purely on bio-based or recycled materials and where no waste is generated at all.
As outcomes of the work within the SPIRIT programme, Ilari envisions concrete tools from the ecosystem, needed to reduce carbon footprint by 2025 and reach the Net Zero objectives by 2030.