A turning point in plastics recycling?

02 July 2019 | Web Article Number: ME201915090

Environmental Management & Control
Green Industries & Renewable Energy
Plastics & Rubber
A turning point in plastics recycling?

ALMOST 190 countries have agreed to new control measures that will limit the transboundary movement of plastic waste around the world, following the recent ratification of the Basel Convention in Geneva, Switzerland.

The resolution prohibits the export of most plastic wastes to receiving countries without their prior consent and has the potential to trigger a global paradigm shift in how the world deals with its plastic waste.

That’s according to Chris Braybrooke from environmental services company Veolia Water Technologies, who said such a response was made all the more urgent since China enacted a ban on the import of most waste plastics in 2018, triggering a crisis of the world’s recycling economy.

Countries that historically relied on exporting their waste to Chinese processors – including the US and countries in the European Union, which have exported 70 and 95 percent respectively of their plastic waste – will now have to find alternative solutions for how they dispose of this waste.

“We need to seize this momentum to devise a sustainable solution to dealing with plastic waste that will minimise our ecological impact, now and in the future,” Braybrooke said, adding that doing so will require a complete reassessment of the lifecycle and economy of plastics.

“In order to be able to reuse our plastic, we need to shift away from strong, single-use plastics to polymers that biodegrade quickly or can be recycled. Recycling requires products designed to be recycled, and the variety of resins, additives and mixtures used in today’s plastics industry makes recycling more complicated.”

Once manufacturers commit to an eco-design plastic, the priority shifts to ensuring recyclables can be processed with maximum efficiency and speed to ensure recycled plastic can be supplied more cost-effectively and thus has increased commercial viability.

Since 2016, the Veolia Group has been operating three plastic recycling and recovery sites near Tokyo. In Honjō and Kikugawa, Veolia sorts LDPE, HDPE, PS and PP waste from the surrounding municipalities and converts it into plastic pellets.

In Ibaraki, the Group uses these granules to make high quality extrusion compounds. They are blended with polymers in small percentages to create a compound that can be used as a raw material to manufacture new products in both the plastics industry and the automotive industry. These facilities produce a combined 45 000 tonnes of recycled plastic products.

To improve the speed and efficiency of sorting plastic waste for recycling in Mantes-la-Ville, west of Paris, Veolia’s Research & Innovation department develops smart robotic solutions that provide a remote sorting mechanism that allow operators to sort plastic packaging waste remotely via a touch screen. “Incorporating robotics, digitisation, artificial intelligence and sensor fusion, Veolia is still looking to improve sorting quality and automation with innovative tools that are able to recognise, separate and prepare the different types of plastics,” Braybrooke explains.

In Dagenham in the UK, Veolia’s recycling centre recycles 300 million HDPE bottles into new bottles every year. This cycle can be repeated up to ten times, meaning the amount of plastic produced for milk bottles could be reduced by 90%.

“Having proven the technological and commercial viability of localised plastic recycling, Veolia is ready to help waste processors around the world develop their own circular economies, and move towards a world of reuse, recycling and zero waste,” Braybrooke said.

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