Monday, 4th january 2021 | Circular economy
Marco Arezio - Consulente materie plastiche - What Alternatives to Mechanical Recycling of Post-Consumer Waste?

A system that no longer meets the stringent needs of the circular economy.

Ever since the world realized that plastic was recycled in a completely marginal quantity compared to how much was produced and, that the non-recycled part, about 90% ended up in the environment and in the oceans, we have wondered about the available technologies and on the future of recycling.

The data are completely alarming, despite the willingness to set up recycling flows in the various countries according to the principles of the circular economy, at least starting from the urban ones that have a significant share of plastic, however, we remain concerned about the amount of plastic waste that can be recycled and reused.

It is no longer sufficient to understand that the ham tray or the bottle of water or the tray of polystyrene tomatoes must be collected, separated, collected by the operators and sent to the recycling plants, but it is now necessary to understand, how and how much and at what price you can recycle all the domestic waste we produce.

Why in this period we must ask ourselves, more insistently, why should we analyze the problem so carefully?

Until a couple of years ago, recycling urban waste, the so-called post-consumption , was an industrial operation where the numbers and the quality of the product mattered most , therefore it was produced to get rid of the waste stocks from the warehouses .

Naturally, the waste was separated by type, milled, washed and extruded according to a tested cycle of mechanical recycling.

But each operation was aimed at the speed of the plants, the volume produced Ton / hour, with the aim of minimizing the waste, as the landfill costs were very high, so we tried not to throw anything away.

But all this had a value until China imported any type of granule, ground and waste, so there was room for everyone at the party . The post-consumer granule producers had become accustomed to composing each type of granule, managing to collect and transform medium-low quality and “garbage” quality granules.

Everything was fine, as long as China said enough.

Today we find ourselves considering that the enormous quantity of waste that we have to manage in our countries, does not allow us to give answers to the market neither in technical terms, neither in environmental terms nor in economic terms.

We find ourselves with the recycling infrastructures lacking in quantitative terms, technologically not adequate to manage the poly-coupled flows sent to China, we do not know how to manage the waste of the fraction of the non-recyclable plastics, there is a widespread adversity of opinion publishes towards waste-to-energy plants and landfills.

In the meantime, our consumption trend , which generates even complex plastic packaging, does not decrease, the companies that produce the packaging have not yet taken a decisive step to have completely recyclable packaging and the national governments are still a little on the run in making radical changes (except for the European Community).

The situation may have a solution if some situations arise:

  • Increase of the chemical recycling of complex post-consumer plastics and reduction of the mechanical one, which generates poor and difficult to use products.
  • Change of the parameters on the aesthetic quality expected on the products, using recycled granules.

  • Improvement of the separation of waste, starting from the home, to use only those plastics that do not contaminate themselves with other materials (the PET bottle for example).

  •  Increase in the availability of waste-to-energy plants to use the plastic fraction, which should not be recycled, as fuel.

  •  Increase in plants for the creation of biogas and electricity from domestic food waste.

  •  Impositions to the industry to produce more recyclable packaging possibly with single plastics.

  •  Increase in the culture of the durability of plastic against the concept of single use.

  •  Increase in the use of renewable energy for production processes.

  •  Listen more to the young people and women who are most involved in environmental protection both with new ideas and behaviors and in purchasing choices.
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