Department of Energy Argonne National Laboratory Office of Science NEWTON's Homepage NEWTON's Homepage
NEWTON, Ask A Scientist!
NEWTON Home Page NEWTON Teachers Visit Our Archives Ask A Question How To Ask A Question Question of the Week Our Expert Scientists Volunteer at NEWTON! Frequently Asked Questions Referencing NEWTON About NEWTON About Ask A Scientist Education At Argonne Thermosetting Products and Ecology
Name: Martin
Status: Other
Age: Other
Location: N/A
Country: N/A
Date: June 2005

Why are thermosetting products used? They cannot be re-cycled and therefore are not eco-friendly. What advantages do they have which make them useable?

This is more of an economics question then a science question. Certainly, thermosets are more difficult to recycle. However, from the producer's standpoint, such thermosets are cheap to manufacture and such cost-effectiveness is ultimately transferred to the consumer. Until consumers are willing to pay a higher price for eco-friendly products (or governments legislate it) we will be faced with such materials.

Greg (Roberto Gregorius)

Thermosetting polymers are essentially one large molecule. This makes them much more resistant to corrosion, wear, and heat than thermoplastic polymers of similar composition. That alone does not make them environmentally bad. It is a tradeoff their greater durability, which makes what ever they are used to make last longer, or applications where thermoplastic polymers are not suitable. An example is automobile tires. Without crosslinked rubber we would not have automobiles, at least as we know them today. It is not necessarily true that they cannot be re-cycled. Tires, for example, can be chopped up and used as "filler" for asphalt. Other examples of things we take for granted that in many cases require thermosetting polymers are: electrical insulation and circuit boards (You would not be reading this e-mail message without thermosetting polymer components.), particle board used to make desks, counter tops and the like require a thermosetting "glue" to hold the wood chips together. Without the thermosetting "glue" there would be no particle board and there would be millions of tons of wood chips that have very little use and would otherwise be burned (not very eco-friendly) or dumped in the garbage (also not very eco-friendly). In tagging a substance, process, etc. "unfriendly" it is necessary to look at all facets of the use from cradle to the grave in assessing how friendly something is. People often focus on one facet of the problem and come to narrow conclusions which are not correct.

Vince Calder

Click here to return to the Material Science Archives

NEWTON is an electronic community for Science, Math, and Computer Science K-12 Educators, sponsored and operated by Argonne National Laboratory's Educational Programs, Andrew Skipor, Ph.D., Head of Educational Programs.

For assistance with NEWTON contact a System Operator (, or at Argonne's Educational Programs

Educational Programs
Building 360
9700 S. Cass Ave.
Argonne, Illinois
60439-4845, USA
Update: June 2012
Weclome To Newton

Argonne National Laboratory