Uponor produces world’s first circular PEX pipe based on 100% chemically recycled raw material

Uponor Corporation, Press Release, 14 February 2023 at 11:30 am EET

Uponor produces world’s first circular PEX pipe based on 100% chemically recycled raw material

Uponor has produced the world’s first circular Uponor PEX pipe based on 100% chemically recycled raw material derived from the company’s own PEX pipe production waste, using an ISCC PLUS certified mass-balancing approach. This groundbreaking solution was enabled by a cooperation between Uponor, Wastewise, Neste and Borealis that have successfully managed to chemically recycle PEX pipe manufacturing waste on an industrial scale back to plastic raw material.

In recent years, Uponor has explored sustainable and advanced waste treatment alternatives for cross-linked polyethylene (PEX) to address circular economy targets. While current solutions are viable for most other plastics, they do not enable PEX circularity due to the structural integrity of the crosslinked chemistry. Mechanical recycling has remained the first recycling option, but it is limited to down-cycled applications with typically low specifications compared to the long, typically 50–100 years, lifetime of PEX. Discovering a truly circular solution for PEX has been a high priority for us.

Advanced recycling is one of the most interesting emerging opportunities for closing the PEX loop by breaking down PEX waste to its chemical constituents and using these to produce new feedstock for high-quality PEX pipes with the same quality as virgin. Through a four-party industry collaboration with experienced actors along the value chain, Uponor teamed up with advanced recycler Wastewise, oil refinery Neste, and polyolefins manufacturer Borealis to successfully recycle PEX waste pipes back into superior PEX pipes that our customers come to know and expect.

Uponor, Wastewise, Neste and Borealis have successfully paved the way for an important circular value chain where chemical recycling closes the loop. PEX pipes are an important contributor to energy-efficient heating and safe plumbing. As a result of the unique cross-linking process, the pipe is of the highest quality and extremely durable, which in turn makes it more difficult to break down for recycling with conventional technologies. 

“We are very excited about this collaboration as it gives us a head start on our transition to circular materials,” says Thomas Fuhr, Chief Technology Officer at Uponor. “Thanks to its superior properties, PEX has by far the most versatile applications, from building water supply systems to efficient radiant heating and cooling systems. At Uponor, we have just celebrated the first 50 years of our PEX piping, and our new long-term goal is to use 100% of our PEX waste as raw material through closed loop recycling.”

In 2022, Uponor delivered post-industrial PEX waste from its production to Wastewise. At Wastewise, the waste plastic polymers were broken down into oil for input at Neste that refined and upgraded the liquified waste plastic. The resulting drop-in feedstock underwent Borealis’ cracking and polymerization processes to produce advanced recycled cross-linkable PE raw material. Finally, Uponor is using the polyethylene to create new PEX pipe systems, which can then be used in the construction sector for heating, plumbing and cooling purposes once more - eligible even for sensitive applications with high requirements, for example those used for drinking water systems. The whole value chain is traceable via ISCC PLUS certified mass-balancing.

In January 2023, the advanced recycled PE was delivered and Uponor has now produced the first circular PEX pipe for drinking water and underfloor heating application. With more than 80% yield of ISCC compliant material, this pilot proofs the chemical recycling of PEX waste towards a closed loop and PEX circularity. The next steps for Uponor will be to further investigate end-of-life PEX waste streams and incorporate more sustainable pathways for our products.

The partner companies believe this project to be the first chemical recycling of PEX construction materials worldwide. It shows that chemical recycling can enable the repurposing of hard-to-recycle waste plastic into high-quality polymer feedstock and the consecutive manufacturing of products of identical quality and properties. Moving forward, the partners will evaluate further cooperation to broaden the waste material pool and increase recycled volumes.

Uponor has also worked with Borealis on producing its ‘Blue’ product family made of bio-based raw material from waste and residue streams.

Further information:    
Franciska Janzon, Senior Vice President, Corporate Communications and IR
Uponor Corporation
Tel. +358 (0)20 129 2821

Uponor in brief
Uponor is one of the leading international providers of solutions that move water for buildings and infrastructure. The company is rethinking water for future generations with its safe drinking water delivery systems, energy-efficient radiant heating and cooling systems, and reliable infrastructure solutions. With a commitment to sustainability and a passion for innovation, Uponor is developing new technologies and systems that enrich people’s lives. We help our customers in residential and commercial construction, municipalities and utilities, as well as different industries to work faster and smarter. Uponor employs about 3,900 professionals in 26 countries in Europe and North America and Uponor’s products are sold in more than 80 countries. In 2021, Uponor's net sales totalled approximately €1.3 billion. Uponor Corporation is based in Finland and listed on Nasdaq Helsinki. www.uponorgroup.com