Recycling Plastics: A Profitable Transition into a Circular Economy

Feb 04,2020

Most people in the modern world are familiar with the concept of recycling. Increasingly, the trend of recycling has spread beyond the scope of eco-warriors. This is because although recycling does not generate immediate money, or increase convenience, it is key to the betterment of global communities.

Recycling gives used products a new lease of life, helps to preserve the limited global natural resources, and also aids in keeping the environment of the planet under healthy parameters. Further, recycled plastics are used to generate a wide array of new products.

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, curbside recycling programs, which have adequate management resources can cost up to USD 150 per ton of plastics. In addition, programs of collecting and disposing trash can cost up to USD 200 per ton. Despite these costs, the benefits substantially surpass the costs.

According to analysts, the usage of recycled plastics to generate new plastic products helps in the conservation of materials. One example of this is the post-consumer recycled plastic packaging which are thermoformed and FDA approved for direct contact with food. The more material is recycled, the larger the positive impact will be.

Emphasis on Circular Economies

Major manufacturers and brands are increasingly seeking to source plastics of high quality standards from responsible supply chains. Such trends help in the generation of sustainable earnings for people in the lower strata of economy, which is pushing the global recycled plastics industry as a strategy of entering a circular economy.

These platforms generate greater accountability and transparency including the base of the supply chain for the manufacturer. In terms of shared value chains, this not only generates higher levels of efficiency, but also helps in the production of high quality plastic at the end of the recycling process. Industry leaders also provide their expertise to manufacturers to minimize the use of virgin plastics, by generating adequate replacements of virgin plastics with recycled plastics from ethical sources.

With tech developments the recycled plastics industry has generated a wide range of offerings including options such as LDPE granules, food grade Polyethylene Terapthalate (PET), polyester films, multi-layer films, polyester filaments, recycled HDPE, ABS which is compliant with Reach and Rohs, and also injection grade PP.

For such developments it is imperative for manufacturers to increase transparency in the supply chains of scrap plastic, with the objective of bolstering quality assurance. This assures a steady supply of high quality materials for industrial partnerships.

Tech Innovations Boost Scope of Application and Cut Costs

Around the world, people recycle many billions of kilos of plastics every year. This number is set to increase even further in the years ahead as the world pushes to cut down plastic waste. The influx of tech innovations in recent years has not only helped to improve on efficiency, but has also aided in cutting down the costs associated with the entire recycling process.

Efforts have been undertaken to develop cutting edge solutions for clearing marine environments from plastic based garbage.  Such efforts include the use of satellite imaging and machine learning to find and identify around 5 trillion pieces of plastic waste, in addition to tracking changes in terms of ocean based garbage patches. Such programs will aid in substantial cleanup operations, which provide raw materials for recycling. The European Space Agency is one of the major bodies to supply the geostationary satellites to study such waste, in addition to tracking relevant cleanup initiatives and applications.

Polyethylene and polypropylene account for around two thirds of the plastic materials in use around the world. Consequently, recycling operations focus on sorting these materials whenever possible. Recent innovations have resulted in the development of a polymer, which can be used to generate a new, hard plastic with PE and PP, which is expected to be easier to recycle.

Such a material will display great scope in terms of product packaging with minimal materials than the current options available, which can aid the conservation of the environment. Robots have been developed to process e-waste with greater efficiency as compared to humans. The robot extracts the useful materials and components, before segregating plastics.

Other robots have been integrated with artificial intelligence systems, which allows the detection and identification of items in extremely high speeds, which aids in terms of sorting and collecting. Such operations aid in reducing the amount of plastic waste in landfill. Tech involving infrared technology allows the separation of plastics with different material composition.

In addition, modern cutting edge cleaning technology is capable of getting rid of undesirable colors, impurities, and odors, which makes recycling extremely efficient and easy, while sustaining supplies of natural resources. Such new technologies also help in cutting down or eliminating the need for water in operations, which cuts down the overall costs.

Data Connectivity and Wireless Tech Reduces Waste

With the advent of internet-of-things and machine to machine connectivity, management for recycling and waste is more efficient and smart. Wireless tracking of operations can be implemented easily in products such as smart compactors, which allows human operators to get timely alerts to developments on their personal computers or phones.

In addition, such technology enables removal of label materials, on containers without damaging the plastic, which cuts down on the generation of plastic waste and increases rates of reuse. Further, big data and visualization techniques allow for better choices in maintaining resources, while allowing greater scope of use for artificial intelligence and machine learning.

Policy and Tech Barriers to Recycling Plastic

If recycling is set to become the major avenue for waste management for plastics, a strong and stable plastics market is essential, with major challenges including recycled plastics, and costs of supplying resins continuing to influence the market.

In addition, the wide range of polymers and additives that are used in the production of various plastics, make recycling processes more challenging. This problem is further compounded by the problems in collecting plastics and the operations of decontamination before the recycling process.

In addition, emerging economies are setting up regulatory barriers to waste trade operations, which is more problematic owing to the high rate of uncontrolled burning and dumping of plastic waste, which adversely affects the environment and creates a case for increased investments in the recycled plastic sector.

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