Upcycling Polycarbonate: Trapezoidal and Corrugated Sheets from Waste
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Upcycling Polycarbonate: Trapezoidal and Corrugated Sheets from Waste

Jul 21, 2023

Sustainability needs to go further beyond inspiring speeches and promises, with visible, concrete actions. In order to see this change, it is essential for individuals, companies and governments to take responsibility and act in a sustainable manner in their daily lives and practices. By taking into account the environmental and social impacts of their decisions and seeking more conscious and responsible alternatives, they can take steps to ensure a sustainable future for the next generations. In the construction industry this is even more urgent. Responsible for a large amount of solid waste and greenhouse gas emissions, it is essential for this industry to adopt sustainable practices, such as recycling, to minimize environmental impacts.

However, even though product recycling processes have significantly advanced in recent years, there are still certain challenges associated with the use of recycled materials. This is due to a variety of factors, such as performance and durability, or even due to the difficulty of obtaining suitable raw materials. But there are also successful examples that show the possibilities of recycled materials.

In the case of the German company Rodeca –an internationally recognized producer of translucent façade and roofing systems– the development of products made from 100% recycled material demonstrates the potential of the circular economy applied to construction. Taking advantage of the theme of this year's BAU, which is environmentally and climate-conscious construction, the company will be exhibiting its trapezoidal and corrugated "PCR" sheets made from 100% recycled polycarbonate.

This material, impressive for its translucency and lightness, has a useful life of 10 to 15 years and, after its disposal, it can be reworked and used in many other applications, even in the construction sector. It can therefore be given a new life, avoiding its disposal either through landfills or burning. Sheets produced are divided into two groups, according to their raw material:

In the former, the final product –trapezoidal or corrugated sheets– can have several shades, including translucent options. In this case, the quality of the recycled industrial waste is almost as good as that of virgin raw material, since the product has undergone only one thermal degradation process. In the latter group, however, only opaque colors are possible, because the granules are usually mixed in with more than one type and end up opaque.

The process for the production of these recycled parts includes a few steps. After being collected and classified, the polycarbonate parts are crushed then melted and extruded into threads, called "spaghettis". After this, they are regranulated to become the "PCR" sheets, with a thickness of 0.9 mm and available in different sizes and finishes.

In this case, the resulting piece keeps most of the qualities of the original, but becomes a different product. According to Rodeca, "There is no such thing as infinite recyclability. Polycarbonate, for example, is not a renewable raw material, but it is definitely recyclable. However, sometimes the recycled material can no longer serve the same original purpose as it has been exposed to contamination and aging." While there are materials, such as steel, that allow successive recycling with minimal loss of performance, there are many others whose resulting product ends up becoming inferior, and there is a limit to their reprocessing. In the case of polycarbonate, although some specifics might change, it continues to be a highly usable product.

In addition, there is an important debate around the use of recycled materials in the construction industry, which relates to the prejudice towards using materials that have been reprocessed. Even in Environmental Product Declarations (EPD), there are knowledge gaps that reduce their possibilities for use in some buildings. "Recycled building materials will not be able to assert themselves without an open building authority culture. Not only to the detriment of producers, but also of processors, consumers and ultimately the environment, since the material has to be thermally 'recycled'." Therefore, tolerance is an important factor for resource conservation and thus sustainability.

To learn more about these and other products from Rodeca Gmbh, visit our product catalog. Or, if you have the opportunity, visit the booth at BAU in Munich from April 17 to 22.

Eduardo SouzaPost-industrial material:Post-consumer material: