Separation of plastics by froth flotation. The role of size, shape and density of the particles

Fernando Pita, Ana Castilho
Waste Management 2017, 60: 91-99
Over the last few years, new methods for plastic separation in mining have been developed. Froth flotation is one of these techniques, which is based on hydrophobicity differences between particles. Unlike minerals, most of the plastics are naturally hydrophobic, thus requiring the addition of chemicals that promote the selective wettability of one of its components, for a flotation separation. The floatability of six granulated post-consumer plastic - Polystyrene (PS), Polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA), Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET-S, PET-D) and Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC-M, PVC-D) - in the presence of tannic acid (wetting agent), and the performance of the flotation separation of five bi-component plastic mixtures - PS/PMMA, PS/PET-S, PS/PET-D, PS/PVC-M and PS/PVC-D - were evaluated. Moreover, the effect of the contact angle, density, size and shape of the particles was also analysed. Results showed that all plastics were naturally hydrophobic, with PS exhibiting the highest floatability. The contact angle and the flotation recovery of six plastics decreased with increasing tannic acid concentration, occurring depression of plastics at very low concentrations. Floatability differed also with the size and shape of plastic particles. For regular-shaped plastics (PS, PMMA and PVC-D) floatability decreased with the increase of particle size, while for lamellar-shaped particles (PET-D) floatability was slightly greater for coarser particles. Thus, plastic particles with small size, lamellar shape and low density present a greater floatability. The quality of separation varied with the mixture type, depending not only on the plastics hydrophobicity, but also on the size, density and shape of the particles, i.e. the particle weight. Flotation separation of plastics can be enhanced by differences in hydrophobicity. In addition, flotation separation improves if the most hydrophobic plastic, that floats, has a lamellar shape and lower density and if the most hydrophilic plastic, that sinks, has a regular shape and higher density. The results obtained show that froth flotation is a potential method for plastics separation, in particular for plastics with particle size greater than 2.0mm.

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