Plastics have proven to make our lives easier. It’s impermeable, durable, lightweight and cheap. It has been used from grocery bags to the construction of vehicles. Its production and use have been abundant that they keep piling up in landfills and the ocean.
Reducing our daily use of plastics is one way to prevent the ever-growing pile. But how about the mountains that are already here?
A more common way of recycling plastics is through mechanical recycling. However, this technique is proven inefficient as it only works with properly sorted plastic trash (we all know that most garbage bins are not sorted out properly) and does not work effectively on heavily contaminated plastic waste.
As technology progresses, there has been a significant development in chemical recycling for plastic waste. In a nutshell, post-consumer plastic waste will be converted into valuable chemicals that can be used for a variety of purposes.
There are a few types of this technology, such as pyrolysis, gasification, chemical depolymerization, catalytic cracking & reforming, and hydrogenation.
Chemical recycling turns plastic polymers back into individual monomers, oligomers and higher hydrocarbons. These materials could then be used to produce virgin-like polymers to create new plastic articles (re-polymerized).
Okay, so far you might be thinking, “So, we’re just going to create more plastics?”
Yes, technically, but from used plastics. So, we won’t be increasing the number of plastic around us.
Let’s not forget that there are other techniques such as pyrolysis and gasification. pyrolysis turns non-recycled plastics from solid waste to synthetic crude oil. This type of oil can be refined into diesel fuel, gasoline, heating oil or wax. Another good thing about pyrolysis is that turning plastics into ultra-low sulfur diesel (ULSD) fuel could help reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 14% and water consumption by 58%, saving up to 96% in traditional energy use as opposed to ULSD from conventional crude oil.
On the other hand, gasification turns non-recycled plastics from solid waste to a synthesis gas (syngas) that can be used for electric power generation, converted into fuel or chemical feedstocks, or new plastics for consumer products.
These technologies have been developed across Europe and giant companies have also invested in it. However, it is yet to be operated on an industrial scale (which means it has not yet generated a significant impact on the economy and environment) for it requires a large investment, commitment from the industry and conceptualized in the legislation.
So, while chemical recycling is growing, the best way to tackle this plastic waste problem is to reduce the use of non-recyclable plastics. How about recyclable plastics? Well, we admit that recyclable plastics has been growing faster as it aims straight to the consumers.
One of the rising companies to produce this plastic is Evoware, an Indonesian “plastic” producer that uses seaweed as its main material. Read their full story here.