Plastic is clearly an issue in many ways, for the environment and humans, but what are some of the ways organizations are making recycling easier?
Research is showing that chemical recycling can be made easier and could turn plastic waste products back into natural resources by physically breaking plastic down into smaller molecules it was produced from originally.
What Is Plastic?
Plastic is made from materials such as crude oil, gas, coal, cellulose and salt which are seen as natural materials or resources. The materials undergo a refining process which essentially is then treated by heat and ‘cracked’ before being combined with other materials to create different plastic types to turn into plastics you can use.
‘Cracking’ means the degradation of the materials by heating without oxygen – this is the main process breaking down the complex carbons into smaller ‘pieces’ creating the new chemicals for end result.
Unfortunately, because crude oil and natural gas are the main ingredients, this makes the plastic in many cases toxic either to people, animals or the environment when breaking down. Manufacturing products from materials such as crude oil is also bad for the environment, releasing carbon dioxide into the air, and oil itself being toxic to animals and the environment on many levels.
Manufacturing of plastic also uses high amounts of electricity and water and the impact of plastic when it breaks down over decades or centuries contributes toxic residue and pollution for the environment, wildlife and marine life.
How Does Chemical Recycling Work?
Chemical recycling breaks down plastic into its building blocks and transforms the waste into valuable secondary raw materials. You can then use these chemicals for new items or plastic. There are typically three steps to chemical recycling:
- Extracting the plastic (dissolution)
- Breaking the plastic down to building blocks (depolymerisation)
- Turning the resulting materials into raw materials (conversion).
Chemical recycling can increase resource efficiency and help the transition to a circular economy for plastics, making today’s ‘worthless’ plastic waste into attractive recycling.
What Does This Mean For Our Environment?
This in turn means that this waste becomes part of a circular economy where waste-oriented thinking becomes resource-orientated. This also makes recycling plastic waste economically attractive which, in turn, means more people can recycle and turn the material into valuable raw materials.
Chemical recycling means less landfill contribution and leakage of plastics into the environment. The process has a lower carbon footprint compared to landfill and incineration of plastic waste. Some research has also indicated that chemical recycling of mixed plastic emits less carbon dioxide than the same waste incinerated.
Could This Be The Solution To The Plastic Problem?
Any process that encourages recycling of plastics and reduction of landfill could be part of the solution the plastic problem. One research paper takes a look at chemical recycling and the entire cycle to see the environmental effects and the market for the resulting products.
The study agrees that chemical recycling creates a circular economy and means that many plastics can be recycled more commonly. This process is also seen as more sustainable, with reduced greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution than current methods.
Read more here: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2021/09/210920173135.htm
Should We Still Choose Alternatives To Plastic?
If you’re interested in stopping or reducing your plastic use, then you should absolutely find all the alternatives to disposal and using plastic. Plastic is still toxic in certain ways and chemical recycling is not yet common enough to rely solely on this method.
There are many items that can be replaced with plastic alternatives and you can find many of these easily. If you’re looking to make a change, here are some ways you can find alternative plastics to lower your landfill contribution:
- Understand the different plastic alternatives – biodegradable and compostable are two easily available options that can replace many items.
- Identify which plastics you can replace – this could be your shopping carry bags, trash bags, dog poo bags, food and drink containers and disposable cutlery.
- Buy plastic alternatives that suit your lifestyle – you can find these in many standard grocery stores as well as online.
- Encourage your family or business to go compostable or biodegradable – share the benefits and the cost of these items with those close to you.
- Ensure you dispose of correctly in your normal waste – don’t try to dispose of biodegradable in a composter or worm farm OR compostable in normal trash.
The biggest benefit of using plastic alternatives is seen in your environmental footprint and contributing less issues in the manufacturing process. A typical plastic bag can take centuries to thousands of years to break down in landfill and so biodegradable or compostable plastic reduces this time vastly.
There are also less traditional plastic chemicals in biodegradable plastics which means less environmental issues in the future such as pollution, toxicity and methane production in landfill.
Chemical recycling is still the ‘new kid on the block’ and needs more studies to ascertain its environmental impact and value to the market. However, thus far, it’s being seen as a better alternative to landfill and incineration.
This is due to its lower emissions and toxicity, as well as value in the resulting raw materials. However, you should still be on the lookout for ways to reduce your plastic usage until chemical recycling is utilized and researched more.