Flame treatment for the selective wetting and separation of PVC and PET

R D Pascoe, B O'Connell
Waste Management 2003, 23 (9): 845-50
Flame treatment has been used for many years to modify the surface of plastics to allow coatings to be added. The effect of the treatment is to produce hydrophilic species on the surface of the plastic making it water-wettable. The production of hydrophilic plastic surfaces is also required in the selective separation of plastics by froth flotation. For the process to be selective one plastic must be rendered hydrophilic while another remains hydrophobic. In this study the potential for separation of PVC and PET has been investigated. Flame treatment was shown to be very effective in producing a hydrophilic surface on both plastics, although the process was not selective under the conditions investigated. Raising the temperature of the plastics above their softening point produced a hydrophobic recovery. As the softening point of PVC was significantly lower than for PET it was possible to produce a significant difference in hydrophobicity, as judged using contact angle measurement. When immersed in water the contact angle of the PVC was found to be strongly dependent on the pH. Good separation efficiency of the two plastics was achieved by froth flotation from pH 4 to 9. One particular advantage of the technique is that no chemical reagents may be required in the flotation stage. The practicalities of designing a flake treatment system however have to be addressed before considering it to be a viable industrial process.

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