What Is Glass Reinforced Plastic and How Should We Dispose Of It Responsibly?
What is GRP?
Often abbreviated to GRP, glass-reinforced plastic (also known as fibreglass) is a strong and versatile material made of synthetic resin and glass fibre. GRP has multifaceted applications due to its high strength, corrosion-resistant, lightweight and low maintenance properties. It is used in various industries including boat building, construction and wind turbine manufacturing.
The environmental impact of GRP
75% less energy is needed to produce glass reinforced plastic (GRP) than steel , which means this incredibly durable and versatile material certainly has environmental benefits in terms of production. However, due to limited awareness about viable environmentally-friendly disposal methods, the vast majority of GRP ends up in landfill.
The disposal of GRP continues to be a significant challenge and landfill tends to be seen as the only viable and cost-effective option. Although GRP is both light and strong, it is also extremely difficult to recycle. While the UK has become a world leader in offshore wind power in an effort to generate greener, renewable energy, thousands of ageing wind turbines are reaching end-of-life and are sadly destined for landfill.
It is estimated that approximately 6,200 tonnes of glass reinforced plastic (GRP) production waste and 75,000 tonnes of GRP end-of-life waste are generated in the UK each year . 98% of this GRP waste goes to landfill despite the existence of viable alternative disposal and recovery technologies.
Responsible disposal methods that divert waste from landfill are vital to lower carbon emissions and reduce the environmental impact of GRP. An example of this is pyrolysis which enables the transformation of waste into a circular resource through the recovery of materials and decarbonised energy.
Fragments of wind turbine blades await burial at the Casper Regional Landfill in Wyoming.
Photographer: Benjamin Rasmussen for Bloomberg Green
Pyrolysis and GRP
Pyrolysis is a transformative process using high temperatures in the absence of oxygen to decompose waste. The Pyrolysis process produces a carbon-rich char that contains recoverable by-products and compounds, including glass fibres.
By pyrolysing GRP, glass fibres can be extracted from the resin and repurposed in new products such as wind turbine blades. This not only avoids wasting the material and allows its reuse the process also generates decarbonised thermal energy.
The energy unlocked through this process is used to sustain the thermal process before being converted into usable energy in the form of heating, chilling, steam generation or electricity. As pyrolysis can turn GRP waste into energy and allows for the repurposing of its by-products, it meets the sustainability requirements of our growing circular economy.
Not only is pyrolysis a greener way to dispose of GRP, it is also cost-effective as it eliminates landfill taxes and transportation costs, enables businesses to save money on gas or electricity, and through the recovery of glass fibres, adds value to end of life waste by removing the cost of raw materials.
 Krafton. 2021. krafton® glass fibre-reinforced plastic (GRP) has a low environmental impact. [online] Available at: <https://www.krafton.uk/grp-profiles/environment/> [Accessed 9 April 2021].
 Composites in Manufacturing. 2021. Tackling the challenge of composites recycling – Composites in Manufacturing. [online] Available at: <https://www.composites.media/tackling-the-challenge-of-composites-recycling/> [Accessed 9 April 2021].