Some of the greatest technological advances the world has seen have occurred in times of conflict. The modern-day commercial airplane is a testament to this. In much the same way, the present world conflict – the move toward greener practices and processes has similarly been driving technological advancement across a range of industries. Recycling has rapidly grown to become one of those emerging industries.
The Start Of The Recycling Process
Essentially, any recycling process begins with the collection and segregation of recyclable products by consumers at the base level. Residential consumers are already well familiarized; with local and state recycling schemes.
For commercial consumers, it has meant similar refining of waste management processes. Support equipment like cardboard baler machines, waste compactors, and segregation and storage units are becoming more common.
Specialist suppliers who have traditionally played a part in the management of the factory and commercial waste. This is being recognized as playing an intrinsic part in the broader recycling and repurposing industry.
Beyond this base-level waste management regimen. A range of innovations is currently being investigated and implemented to either process or repurpose recyclable products.
The Transformation Of Plastic Waste
Of all the recyclables, perhaps it is plastic that gives rise to the greatest concern. Indeed plastic waste has always been a worldwide unsolvable crisis. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch – a floating plastic trash site (referred to as a ‘plastic accumulation zone’) is a prime example. Located in the Pacific Ocean between Hawaii and California ocean currents, deposit discarded waste here in an area that is physical twice the size of Texas, or three times the size of France.
A key concern with plastic waste is the fact that these materials do not break down in the environment and remain a pollutant, as well as being a threat to wildlife as a result of ingestion or entrapment.
A current study at the Australian University of Sydney is investigating ways to ‘monetize plastic waste assets by converting them into their base chemical components. Being a petrochemical product, this means that plastics may be converted into fuels and lubricants; such as diesel or petrol as well as heavier oils and greases.
A key benefit of the repurposing process is the low energy usage require in the process; as well as the minimal resultant greenhouse gas emissions.
Changing The Chemical Composition Of Plastics
The fact is, plastics are extremely difficult to recycle. Typically due to the differences in chemicals used in the original manufacturing process. Presently in the USA, only PET products are in the recycling process like;
- Soda bottles
- High-density polyethylene plastics like milk
- Detergent containers
This only represents approximately 9% of all plastic products in daily use. A further problem arises in that not all plastics will blend with one another in the recycling process; as a result of these base chemical differences.
A solution to this inefficiency lies in changing the chemical composition of plastic waste, and trials have been conducted with the addition of “compatibilizers” – chemicals that promote a blending and bonding of different plastics in the recycling and repurposing process.
Chemical recycling is an emerging innovation that has only investigated over the past three years that seems to have set about increasing the use of plastic.
The management of recyclable waste products has become an increasingly critical issue. Tied intimately to considerations of environmental protection and sustainability. The plastic industry is a set for significant technological advancement and innovation in the immediate future.