Validation of the Application of the Pyrolysis Process for the Treatment and Transformation of Municipal Plastic Wastes
Costa, Paula
Pinto, Filomena
Mata, Ricardo
Marques, Paula
Paradela, Felipe
Costa, Luis

How to Cite

Costa P., Pinto F., Mata R., Marques P., Paradela F., Costa L., 2021, Validation of the Application of the Pyrolysis Process for the Treatment and Transformation of Municipal Plastic Wastes, Chemical Engineering Transactions, 86, 859-864.


Only around 30 % of the 27.1 million tonnes of plastic waste recovered annually in Europe is being recycled efficiently into new products. The most common way to recycle plastics nowadays is through mechanical recycling methods that involve sorting plastics by type, melting them and reprocessing into recycled products. Mechanical recycling requires clean, high-purity mono-material streams, that must be obtained by separation at source (by the citizen or industry) or by manual or automated sorting of mixed waste streams. However, this degree of separation is very difficult or even impossible due to composition or contamination of the plastic waste, such is the case for example of complex materials like composites, made of more than one material that in most cases cannot be separated, and of highly contaminated plastic residues (e.g. food packaging). In economic terms, plastic recycling is not always cost-efficient since many times recycling costs are not covered by the prices of the recycled plastics. As a result, approximately 70 % of European plastic waste is not recycled due to technical or economic reasons, so, they are sent to landfill or to incineration. One of the possible solutions to deal with this type of plastic wastes is the pyrolysis process which allows taking profit of plastics organic matter and tolerates a certain degree of contamination. Pyrolysis products have good quality. Gases have high calorific value and liquids have high energetic content and stability characteristics, including well-defined distillation point, stability of physical properties, low acidity, and high miscibility with conventional fuels. However, products obtained by plastic waste pyrolysis depend on the operational conditions and are strongly affected by the type of plastic waste used. The main purpose of this study is to validate the application of the pyrolysis process for treatment and transformation of plastic mix (essentially derived from MSW and from end-of-life composites) into mainly profitable liquids, together with gases and solid by using thermal (or catalytic) pyrolysis. The raw materials studied were waste streams from municipal solid waste (MSW), containing mainly plastic (i.e. PE, PP, PS, and small amounts of PET and PVC) separated from organic waste pool, as well as end-of-life composites (i.e. packages, electrical wastes, vehicles, etc.). After sorting of these waste materials, plastic fractions of different composition were processed in the pyrolysis reactor. The pyrolysis experiments were carried out in batch 5.5 L reactor using different mixtures, operational conditions and catalysts. All gaseous hydrocarbons produced were measured and collected for direct analysis by gas chromatography (GC), whilst liquid hydrocarbons were distilled and solids were extracted with hexane. Liquid fractions were analysed using a GC-MS (gas chromatography-mass spectrometry) to identify their main compounds, which were quantified by GC. The experimental results obtained showed that, for instance, the use of polystyrene favoured highly the formation of aromatic compounds, mainly toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene, while in presence of polyethylene the hydrocarbons produced are mainly paraffins. Also, the presence of PS, PET and PVC increases the solid content, decreasing the liquid yield.