The question of the environment is increasingly present within the plastics industry. Indeed, while some countries are much more efficient in terms of recycling their household and industrial waste, Europe remains timid in its efforts to safeguard the environment. The plastics processing industry finds itself at the heart of the debate. Let’s have a look at the precepts and challenges of recycling of plastic waste.
What should be recycled? And how?
Recovery of plastics waste is a theme everyone talks about. In a world where the crisis rages and where pollution and depletion of natural resources such as oil revive the environmental debate, the question is: How not to spoil the plastic having already been transformed into a finished product, how to give it a second life? Indeed , 37 % of European waste end up in landfills, while only 25 % is recycled, composted 15% and 23 % incinerated.
Plastic industrial waste and scrap consist of productionvand processing misfires. Among them, there are two types of plastic capable of being recycled or reprocessed: Thermoplastics (e.g. polyethylene, polystyrene, polypropylene and polyvinyl chloride) and thermosetting (polyurethanes, Bakelite, polyester).
Yet there are many recovery processes for industrial plastic waste, which can show significant benefits. Among them, there are 3 main types of recovery: material, chemical and energy recovery.
3 types of recycling of industrial waste plastics
Material recovery : 2 types
- Mechanical recycling: corresponds to a sequence of treatments (washing, grinding, drying or granulation) to obtain a new transformable material in order to provide a finished product. They are processed through the use of recycling machines.
- Regeneration: is to turn plastic waste into powder.
Chemical recovery: 3 types
- Depolymerization: to chemically transform a material into another material with similar properties.
- Dissolution: principle of purification of the material by polymer dissolution.
- Extrusion: to modify the polymer chain to obtain a new type of material
- Incineration and energy recycling.
And on an European level?
As we have shown, it is not impossible to deal with plastic waste while leveraging: to produce from material having already been used should become much cheaper in the long term as demand for plastic should according to studies triple by 2050. Consequently, the plastic industry is pushing Europe to take action regarding the reuse of plastic waste and encourage the establishment of new European legislation that should regulate waste management. Three countries in particular already show a good example through a recovery system of waste that could potentially inspire an European model: Germany , Belgium and Sweden have indeed injected a lot of investments that led to the establishment of national systems for collecting packaging, as well as national legislation promoting energy recovery from plastic waste.
However, in Europe, the figures for waste recovery is progressing too slowly, up to 2% each year, even though a recovery rate of 80 % is expected by 2020. Framework directive on waste promulgated by the European Commission in 2010 was strengthened in 2013 so that industrial might soon be taxed on the excess of non-recycled waste, a regulation supported by the plastics processing industry who denounce the waste of a considerable number of tons of raw materials. Results will come up in 2020: will Europe manage to recycle half of its industrial plastic waste?