Plastic – have we ever given a second though to it before using it? Probably not, as we have been using this material since ages, since a majority of our daily use products are made out of plastic. Hence, without even giving a second though we tend to use and waste plastic products, which not only stack our landfills and natural habitats worldwide, but also cannot be recycled easily.
Imagine going for a swim in the sea and getting entangled in a clutter disposed by us, or going for a walk in the park and instead of playfully kicking the dirt, you would be kicking colourful plastic waste out of your way in almost every step! The thought itself can make one feel uneasy, so you can picture quite easily what our environment is going through due to some of our destructive ways of living.
While it is true that apart from the other materials available, plastic is found to be more convenient, inexpensive and a durable product for use. From large to micro sized objects, plastic is used in every part of the industry due to the versatile properties and low cost methods to manufacture it.
Why is there a need to recycle plastic?
The process of collecting plastic waste and re-generating the materials into useful products has been termed as an essential activity known as plastic recycling process. Currently the idea of recycling is considered as one of the most important actions available, so as to reduce the harmful impacts on our environment. Recycling or product reuse offers an opportunity to reduce plastic pollution and conserve vital resources for creating new plastic products. In an effort to reduce environmental impacts, many cities and countries worldwide are passing bans and taxing plastic bags.
The 6 common types of plastics identified are PS (Polystyrene), PP (Polypropylene), LDPE (Low-density polyethylene), PVC (Plasticised Polyvinyl chloride or polyvinyl chloride), HDPE (High-density polyethylene) and PET (Polyethylene terephthalate). Except a few such as PET, HDPE and PVC plastic, not all plastic can be recycled due to the expensive and difficult nature of processing it.
To spread awareness on the importance of reducing plastic waste among people, many cities across the world had organized drives of collecting plastic stocks from homes, banning the use, storage, sale, distribution and transportation of select plastic items. While not only restricting marketplaces or shops, the plastic ban had also reached university campuses with an idea to promote the concept of plastic free living amongst the youth and help sustain the environment.
Advances and Challenges for the Plastic Recycling Industry
In 2018, China started to ban its post-consumer plastics import. Vietnam, Malaysia, South Korea, Japan, Indonesia, Thailand and many other countries set up facilities to produce recycled pellets and sell to the Chinese market. Europe significantly improved its capacity to recycle locally-collected plastic waste, increasing processed volume by more than 4 billion pounds per year from 2017-2019. Most other countries also increased domestic recycling capacity.
However in 2020, the global plastic recycling business was heavily impacted by the coronavirus disease (COVID- 19) pandemic. Although China and some other countries have quickly recovered from the pandemic, collecting and recycling recyclable waste has been suspended, widely. There are 2 major sources of post-consumer plastics for recycling: nondurable products and durable products. Nondurable products are mostly plastic bottles, containers and films. Durable products include plastics used in electronics, carpets, automotive products and other industrial and commercial products.
The term chemical recycling will be used to describe the return to chemical units originally used to make resins. Nylon can be depolymerized to caprolactam. The term feedstock recycling will be used to denote the process of decomposing plastics to a mix of organic chemicals, some used in the manufacture of plastics and some not. Feedstock recycling products are more akin to the raw materials used to produce plastics (e.g., petroleum, natural gas). Mechanical recycling methods include those that involve physical modifications to the recovered plastic only, such as separation, grinding and classifying. Most recycled polyethylene terephthalate (PET) comes from PET bottles and the main end market for recycled PET bottle resin is fibres.
Some of the leading companies in the plastic recycling industry are CarbonLITE, Kunststoffrecycling Ges.m.b.H, LyondellBasell, MBA Polymers Inc., MTM Plastics GmbH, Montello S.p.A., Teijin, Recycled Plastics UK and Shakti Plastics Industries.
There are a lot of alternative options to be considered and with our efforts only the use of plastic in our daily lives can decrease. To think of plastic is an indispensible product for people around the globe, be it from clothes we wear to the simple things we use in our daily lives. True to the fact that according to the experts it takes around 450 -1,000 years to decompose, it is important for us to understand this material and the challenges associated in recycling it. Public awareness and concerns have led to many organizations to act towards plastic recycle and waste management processes.