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plastic ABS

ABS, or acrylonitrile butadiene styrene, is a type of plastic or polymer. It is called an engineering plastic because it is widely used in automotive and other industries as it is more complex to make and process than ordinary plastics. This plastic is polymerised primarily through the emulsion process, a mixture of several products that are not normally combined into one product. It is also created using a patented process known as continuous mass polymerisation. ABS can be used in alloys with other plastics. For example, by bonding ABS with PVC to increase flame resistance. Joining it to PTFE (Teflon) would give greater flame resistance and reduce its coefficient of friction.

Characteristics of ABS

  • It is a material that at relatively high temperatures becomes deformable, flexible and melts when heated and hardens when sufficiently cooled.
  • It is a thermoplastic that is noted for its stiffness, hardness and toughness.
  • It is highly resistant to impact/shock and high temperatures.

The acronym ABS is derived from the 3 monomers used to produce it. When produced by these three monomers, ABS is a terpolymer:

  • Acrylonitrile: provides stiffness, resistance to chemical attack, high temperature stability and toughness.
  • Butadiene: provides toughness at all temperatures, even at low temperatures where other plastics become brittle.
  • Styrene: provides mechanical strength and rigidity.

The most common applications and uses are: automotive (chrome-plated parts, interior and interior trim parts…), electronics (TV casings, radios, consoles, computers…), toys (LEGO blocks, many Rubik’s Cubes…), musical instruments (plastic recorders and similar).

Recycling of ABS

As ABS is a thermoplastic, it can be easily recycled. In fact, the most common way to produce ABS is from recycling (creating ABS from ABS). The colour of the plastic determines its recyclability. In the case of black, it is more problematic in material identification processes. ABS for recycling has several options depending on its characteristics and origin. If the part does not contain any hazardous substances and is self-moulded, mechanical recycling can be done. If it contains hazardous substances, thermochemical or combustion recycling is used.

These are the types of recycling for ABS that are generally used:

  • Mechanical recycling: the part is ground and reformed.
  • Recycling for energy recovery: combustion of the material.
  • Thermochemical recycling: the material is treated at high temperatures and then sorted and the chemical components are separated so that they can be reused in other chemical processes.

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