Material Flows of Polyurethane in the United States

Chao Liang, Ulises R. Gracida-Alvarez, Ethan T. Gallant, Paul A. Gillis, Yuri A. Marques, Graham P. Abramo, Troy R. Hawkins*, Jennifer B. Dunn*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


Today, polyurethanes are effectively not recycled and are made principally from nonrenewable, fossil-fuel-derived resources. This study provides the first high-resolution material flow analysis of polyurethane flows through the U.S. economy, tracking back to fossil fuels and covering polyurethane-relevant raw materials, trade, production, manufacturing, uses, historical stocks, and waste management. According to our analysis, in 2016, 2900 thousand tonnes (kt) of polyurethane were produced in the United States and 920 kt were imported for consumption, 2000 kt entered the postconsumer waste streams, and 390 kt were recycled and returned to the market in the form of carpet underlayment. The domestic production of polyurethane consumed 1100 kt of crude oil and 1100 kt of natural gas. With the developed polyurethane flow map, we point out the limitation of the existing mechanical recycling methods and identify that glycolysis, a chemical recycling method, can be used to recycle the main components of postconsumer polyurethane waste. We also explore how targeting biobased pathways could influence the supply chain and downstream markets of polyurethane and reduce the consumption of fossil fuels and the exposure to toxic precursors in polyurethane production.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)14215-14224
Number of pages10
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number20
StatePublished - Oct 19 2021


  • biobased feedstock
  • circular economy
  • material flow analysis
  • polyurethane
  • recycling
  • sustainability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Chemistry(all)
  • Environmental Chemistry


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