Plastic, a non-compostable organic polymer of high molecular mass, has literally today come to span our time and spaces. It seems we can’t do without plastics. But unmanaged plastics are a great nuisance and a threat to environment. The fact is: we can’t discard plastics for once and all. The trick, however, lies in recycling it making minimal use of water and power to ensure its continued use.
According to an estimate by the Container Recycling Institute in the United States more than 89 per cent of plastic water bottles – approximately 40 million each day – end up as trash or litter. In the absence of any effective plastic waste management or recycling mechanism, the plastic bottles are likely to disrupt the earth’s delicate aquifer and cause damage to the environment.
‘Recycle plastic’ has become the most concerted, common buzz around today among the manufacturers and end-users of plastics. But recycling is not an easy and cost effective option to address various environmental and economic concerns arising out of excessive use of plastics. It poses numerous challenges: Incineration of plastic waste materials results in emission of gaseous chemicals that pose a direct threat to the earth’s vital and delicate ozone layer. Recycling plastics waste into reusable plastic palates entails use of high level of energy and huge amount of water. So, what’s the way out?
Waterless, energy effective recycling, a good option
The new technology recycles plastics without using any water. It can easily form the plastics beads without the use of excessive heat. This means there is not only no use of water but also energy consumption is cut down by 50 per cent compared to the energy consumed through conventional recycling.
- The new water-less recycling is capable of processing over 90 per cent of any type of plastic, including Styrofoam, Polystyrene, PET and ABS.
- The use of a simpler recycling method rules out the need for big recycling space besides ensuring that the quality of plastic beads post recycle is higher.
- Today, the biggest challenge to the recycling of plastics comes from the difficulty in automating the sorting of plastic wastes.
- Thermoplastics can be re-melted and reused, and thermo-set plastics can be ground up and used as filler, although the purity of the material tends to degrade with each reuse cycle.
- There are methods by which plastics can be broken back down to a feedstock state.
Green plastic: Can it be a reality!
- Some of the big multinational food and beverages companies known to consume voluminous proportion of plastic for packaging purposes are now spending millions of dollars every year on researches to find that most bio-degradable alternative to plastic!
- A brand of plastic water bottle made from corn is going on sale in America that is said to be 100% environmentally friendly and bio-degrades in about 80 days in commercial composting environments.
- Another US beverage giant recently claimed that it had developed the world’s first polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic bottle made entirely from plant-based, fully renewable resources including switch grass, pine bark and corn husks.
- The bottle not only offers a significantly reduced carbon footprint compared to petroleum-based PET, but is also 100 percent recyclable, it claims.
- However, finding a compostable alternative plastic that would one day naturally bio-degrade is a challenging task easier set than accomplish. Some breakthroughs in this regard have come to light but these are too early in the day to promise anything concrete in the immediate future.
Reuse or recycle plastic?
Reuse, reduce and last but not the least recycle plastic – which experts say should always be the last resort because it involves a power and water intensive process.
- Plastic is washed with detergents and then ground into smaller pieces or beads.
- The pieces have to be dried in order to crystallize exposing them to 180 degree Celsius heat and then cooling it back down with water.
- The silver lining is that some companies have come up with recycling technologies that use minimal water and energy and the end product is also of far more superior quality.