By Brigitte Osterath
Yogurt pots, shampoo bottles, coffee-to-go lids, bubble wrap — plastic products are all composed of the same building blocks: long carbon chains.
Heating them to high temperatures makes the carbon chains crack into a mixture of shorter molecules, ultimately converting them back into crude oil, the resource from which the majority of plastic products were originally made.
Big Business<p>Several companies have made significant investments in chemical recycling, building facilities to test various ways of making what is allegedly more environmentally friendly oil. So far, it's still in the development and test stage.</p><p>In 2018, multinational chemistry giant BASF launched ChemCycling — a project that aims to generate a so-called pyrolysis oil from plastic waste. The company claims it can be used in the production of new polymers, which it says will save fossil fuel resources.</p><p>Austrian oil and gas company OMV has built a pilot plant which it says can process all common packaging material such as polyethylene, polypropylene and polystyrene.</p><p>The plastics are chopped down, mixed with a high-boiling solvent and heated in a furnace at over 300 degrees Celcius (572 degrees Fahrenheit). Once the product has been distilled and the solvent filtered off, the company is left with synthetic crude oil, which it claims is "free of sulfur, lighter than fossil crude oil and with a higher hydrogen content — therefore of higher quality."</p><p>The product can be refined to make fuels such as gasoline, kerosene and diesel or petrochemical products.</p><p>The plant has the capacity to convert 100 kilos of waste each hour, OMV told DW. But a planned successor facility would be able to process 2,000 kilos hourly.</p><p>Similar pilot plants are being constructed in other countries across Europe.</p>
Behind the Hype<p>So, can chemical recycling solve our waste problem through the creation of fuels?</p><p>Roman Maletz, a researcher at the Institute of Waste Management and Circular Economy at the Technical University in Dresden, is not convinced.</p><p>The idea of recycling plastic trash by cracking it, he says, is neither new nor revolutionary. It has just never worked before.</p><p>"In the past, such plants always ran into problems when in continuous operation," Maletz said. "I don't see how these issues could suddenly be resolved."</p><p>Problems arise when the trash contains too many different materials or when it is too dirty.</p><p>"In that case, the quality of the product is lowered, and the whole process becomes economically unviable."</p>
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By Jeannette Cwienk
When it comes to recycling and recyclability, very little, it seems is straightforward — even something as seemingly simple as orange juice can present a conundrum. In Germany, many smaller shops sell drinks in cartons or plastic bottles, both of which will end up in the yellow recycling bin. But how do their recycling credentials stack up?
More and More Multilayer Packaging<p>How easy is it to recognize multilayer packaging? With drink cartons, it's usually obvious that they're made from a combination of different materials, but with other products, such as candy wrappers, it's a different story.</p><p>Such packaging can be made from a complex mix of up to 10 different films of plastic, which as Joachim Christiani, managing director of German recycling institute cyclos-HTP, explains, is <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/germany-produces-record-amount-of-packaging-waste/a-51293541" target="_blank">invisible to consumers</a>.</p><p>"In recent years there's been a trend toward so-called multilayer packaging, which is extremely light and thin. It saves material as well as CO2 emissions during transport, but can't be recycled," Christiani says.</p><p>Because it is not possible to melt the different plastics together, or — at least for now — to separate the individual films from one another at recycling plants.</p>
Lack of Recycled Plastic<p>A 2017 cyclos-HTP study into the recyclability of conventional packaging waste concluded that a third of it was not recyclable, and only 40% of the remaining two-thirds was made into plastic recyclate. The rest was used as fuel <em>—</em> in other words it was incinerated.</p><p>"There was no economic or political pressure to recycle more than this amount," Christiani says. "The prescribed recycling quotas were met, and there were not nearly enough recycling plants."</p>
Room for Greenwashing<p>According to a 2018 survey by Germany's vzbv consumer protection association, most consumers would like to see more plastic recycling, especially when it comes to packaging.</p><p>Although some products come in packaging that is advertised as being "made from recycled material," Elke Salzmann, a resource protection officer with vzbv, says that can be misleading.</p><p>"It says nothing about how much recycled material the packaging actually contains," according to Salzmann. "And it also doesn't mean that the recycled plastic comes from collected plastic waste. It could just as well come from plastic leftovers created during the production of primary plastic."</p><p>The term "ocean plastic," which some textile and shoe manufacturers use to advertise the recycled plastic in their product lines, can also be misleading, Salzmann says.</p><p><span></span>"Plastic waste from the ocean is in much too bad a state to be recycled. Instead, they use plastic waste from beaches or riverbanks."</p>
Laws Against Plastic<p>Images of garbage choking our waters and <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/eurythenes-plasticus-a-deep-sea-crustacean-full-of-plastic/a-52663559" target="_blank">killing marine wildlife</a> have played a key role in giving plastic a negative reputation among the public, and politicians have started to act.</p><p>Many countries worldwide have introduced bans on single-use items, and in Germany, a 2019 packaging law stipulates a plastics recycling quota of 90% from 2022, up from 36%. That said, the quota only refers to how much material has to be fed into the recycling system, not how much ultimately needs to be recycled.</p>
Rethinking the Whole System<p>Although plastic is a very useful material, at the end of its life it causes many problems, EASAC environmental program director Michael Norton tells DW, adding that we have to rethink the whole system and completely change the way we use plastic.</p><p>Joachim Christiani says the packaging industry is starting to catch on. Around 70% of recycled mass can currently be generated from packaging, but that figure is expected to rise in the future.</p><p>"95% is quite feasible," says the engineer, adding that sorting facilities are currently undergoing improvements, while packaging design is also changing.</p>
Clear Plastics Are Easiest to Recycle<p>As things stand, PET bottles are easiest to recycle because they're not mixed with other materials. New bottles can therefore easily be made from the old ones and the recycling rate is high. But the color of the bottle can pose a problem.</p><p>Because plastic is sorted by type rather than color, if different colors of plastic are mixed, the resulting recyclate cannot be used for light-colored packaging, which many manufacturers want. The upshot is the introduction of new plastic instead.</p><p>Consumer and environmental associations have long called for recyclability, greater sorting purity and better sorting facilities, but their most important demand remains waste avoidance through reusable systems.</p><p>"Why melt down disposable bottles to make new disposable bottles when you can refill them up to 20 times?" Buschmann asks.</p>
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Julie Wilson
It's great when consumers take responsibility for using less plastic, and for cleaning up plastic waste in their communities.
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Scientists are learning more about a caterpillar that is very hungry …. for plastics!
By Stuart Braun
1.3 billion plastic bottles are sold daily around the world. And that's just the tip of the fossil-based plastic iceberg. Plastic preserves our food. It's in the nylon and polyester we wear, and it protects medical staff from the coronavirus.
1. Olive Pits<p>Countries that produce a lot of olive oil have a byproduct that can be used for plastic: olive pits. A Turkish startup called Biolive began creating a range of began creating a range of bioplastic granules created from olive seeds that result in bio-based, partially biodegradable products that can decompose in a year.<br></p><p>The active ingredient oleuropein found in olive seeds is an antioxidant that extends the life of the bioplastic while also hastening composting of the material into fertilizer within a year. </p><p>And since Biolive's granules act like fossil fuel-based plastics, plastic producers can simply substitute the conventional granules without disrupting the production cycle for industrial products and food packaging. </p><p>Biolive claims that by utilizing olive oil waste, production costs are reduced by up to 90% in relation to some existing bioplastics. This is important says founder Duygu Yilmaz, since starch-based bioplastics made from corn are often more expensive than petroleum-based plastics are therefore not a viable alternative. </p><p>In 2019, award-winning Biolive was chosen to represent Turkey at the United Nations Development Programme.</p>
2. Sunflower Hulls<p>Like olive seeds, the husks of sunflower seeds used for oil production is a waste product also being used to created bioplastics. And luckily, they're in near endless supply.</p><p>The German start-up Golden Compound has created a unique Sustainable Sunflower Plastic Compound bioplastic – referred to as S²PC. It's reinforced with sunflower hulls, which they claim are 100% recyclable.</p><p>The S²PC bioplastic is being moulded into everything from office furniture to recyclable transport and storage boxes and crates.</p><p>Golden Compound also produces a "green" bioplastic that is 100% biodegradable, GMO-free and can be fully composted at home. Products include award-winning, <a href="https://www.plasticsinsight.com/golden-compound-and-alpla-bring-a-world-first-biodegradable-coffee-capsule-compostable-at-home" target="_blank">world-first biodegradable coffee capsules</a>, plant pots and coffee mugs. </p><p>The German start-up attributes the success of its bioplastics to performance. "In the end, the only reason people will be willing to switch, is if it works," Marcel Dartée, General Manager at Golden Compound, told the <em>Plastic Today </em>trade publication.</p>
3. Fish Waste and Algae<p>The growing attempt to transform organic waste into plastic now includes fish processing refuse.</p><p>A UK initiative called MarinaTex is using fish skin and scales – 500,000 tons of which are generated annually in the UK alone – bound with red algae to make a compostable plastic alternative that can replace single-use plastics such as bakery bags and sandwich packs.</p><p>MarinaTex claims the biopolymer creates stronger packaging than a conventional plastic bag — flying in the face of perceptions that bioplastics lack strength and durability.</p><p>Lucy Hughes, who created the product in her final year at the University of Sussex, says MarinaTex's flexibility, strength and pliability was inspired by actual fish skin and scales.</p><p>"It kind of struck me that nature can make so much from so little, so why do we need to have hundreds of man-made polymers when nature has so many already available," she told the World Economic Forum in November. </p><p>MarinaTex, which won the 2019 James Dyson Award worth €35,000, describes its product as home compostable and says it can break down within four to six weeks.</p>
4. Plant Sugars<p>While PET is one of the most recyclable fossil-based plastics it takes hundreds of years to decompose. In response, Amsterdam-based Avantium has created a revolutionary "YXY" plants-to-plastics technology that converts plant-based sugars into a new biodegradable packaging material, polyethylene furanoate or PEF.</p><p>A trial of PEF biodegradability in the natural environment is showing promising signs.</p><p>"PEF degrades much faster than PET under industrial composting conditions," Caroline van Reedt Dortland, Director Communications at Avantium, told DW. Degrading in 250-400 days as opposed to 300-500 years is significant.</p><p>It is used as a textile, film, and has the potential to become a major player in the packaging of soft drinks, water, alcoholic beverages and fruit juices, having already collaborated with the likes of Carlsberg to create <a href="https://www.avantium.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/20191011-Press-release-Avantium-joins-Paper-Bottle-Project-final.pdf" target="_blank">a "100% bio-based" beer bottle</a>.</p><p>According to Hasso Pogrell of European Bioplastics, it's even possible to " recycle PEF together with PET, and it makes the PET recyclate perform even better than the original PET."</p>
5. Mushrooms<p>Gadget blog<em> Gizmodo</em> wrote back in 2015 about resilient and biodegradable fungal mycelia-based materials which, unlike oil-based plastic, "create no toxic byproducts."</p><p>One emerging brand utilizing fungi is Reishi, a sustainable, fine mycelium leather substitute created from a woven cellular microstructure derived from mushrooms. By emulating the collagen structure of animal leathers, Reishi fine mycelium is both sustainable and versatile.</p><p>Reishi creator MycoWorks has taken the water-resistant biomaterial to the next level, promising the performance, quality and aesthetics of leather or synthetic plastic materials, but with a negative carbon footprint.</p><p>Already utilized by a selection of European luxury and footwear brands, in late 2019 $17 million (€18 million) financing was raised to help deliver commercially viable non-plastic, non-animal Reishi materials to the market.</p><p>In terms of limiting fossil-based plastic consumption, the biomaterial aims to outperform existing "vegan leathers" that are created with unsustainable plastics. <br></p>
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The plastics industry is asking the federal government for a $1 billion bailout to help recycling during the pandemic.
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Malaysia Sends Plastic Waste Back to 13 Wealthy Countries, Says It Won’t Be 'the Rubbish Dump of the World'
The Southeast Asian country Malaysia has sent 150 shipping containers packed with plastic waste back to 13 wealthy countries, putting the world on notice that it will not be the world's garbage dump, as CNN reported. The countries receiving their trash back include the United States, the United Kingdom, France and Canada.
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A garbage yard in Lucknow, India where plastic bottles are dumped before being sent to recycling. Abhimanyu Kumar Sharma / Moment / Getty Images
Scientists have engineered a mutant enzyme that converts 90 percent of plastic bottles back to pristine starting materials that can then be used to produce new high-quality bottles in just hours. The discovery could revolutionize the recycling industry, which currently saves about 30 percent of PET plastics from landfills, reported Science Magazine.
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The First Step in Managing Plastic Waste Is Measuring It – Here’s How We Did It for One Caribbean Country
By Clyde Eiríkur Hull and Eric Williams
Countries around the world throw away millions of tons of plastic trash every year. Finding ways to manage plastic waste is daunting even for wealthy nations, but for smaller and less-developed countries it can be overwhelming.
Plastic Arrives as Packaging<p>The first step to solving any problem is to measure it. This is often challenging for plastics, due to lack of data on <a href="https://theconversation.com/tons-of-plastic-trash-enter-the-great-lakes-every-year-where-does-it-go-100423" target="_blank">where they come from and end up</a>. A major part of our analysis was repurposing trade statistics to make up for limited data.</p><p>Material flow analysis helps quantify the flow of products and wastes. This process was developed in the late 1990s by <a href="https://www.pearson.com/us/higher-education/program/Graedel-Industrial-Ecology-and-Sustainable-Engineering/PGM121237.html" target="_blank">industrial ecologists</a> for waste management. They have applied it to track materials like metals and products like <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.resconrec.2012.07.008" target="_blank">computers</a> at national and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/S0040-1625(02)00201-9" target="_blank">international</a> scales.</p><p>The analysis combines different kinds of data. It tracks imported or newly manufactured products entering economies to their use and reuse, including recycling, export or disposal in landfills. <a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-017-7610-3_7" target="_blank">Academics and government agencies</a> conduct material flow analysis to inform environmental management.</p><p>The most surprising finding from our study was that most of the plastic entering the country's landfills — a total of 49,000 tons per year — was not produced or imported. Rather, it entered the country as packaging around imported products. In other words, the largest amount of landfilled plastic "came along for the ride" with other things.</p><iframe src="https://ourworldindata.org/grapher/global-plastic-fate" style="width: 100%; height: 600px; border: 0px none;"></iframe>
Recycle, Burn or Ban<p>Much plastic waste ends up in landfills (or the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-018-03104-3" target="_blank">ocean</a>), but there are better solutions. One is recycling.</p><p>One promising finding from our study is that people in Trinidad and Tobago throw away 26,000 tons of <a href="https://www.britannica.com/science/polyethylene-terephthalate" target="_blank">PET plastic bottles</a> every year — enough to make building a domestic recycling facility economically efficient. There is also enough domestic demand for PET bottles to use the plastic that would come from a recycling facility to make more bottles.</p><p>A second solution is finding an alternative use for plastic waste. Plastic can be burned for energy, with proper scrubbing and cleaning, as is done in Sweden, where <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/21/climate/sweden-garbage-used-for-fuel.html" target="_blank">about half of all garbage is burned for energy</a>.</p><p>Some companies elsewhere, such as Lehigh Northeast Cement Co. in Glens Falls, New York, are starting to burn plastic as a <a href="https://poststar.com/news/local/lehigh-cement-gets-state-ok-to-burn-paper-and-plastic/article_a6b97aeb-3a4e-58c4-a789-6188b82e13ae.html" target="_blank">fuel in cement plants</a>. Cement production is energy intensive, and plastic can substitute for a large portion of the fossil fuels used. Trinidad and Tobago has a cement plant of sufficient size to burn around 29,000 tons of plastic waste.</p><p>Whether this option would work depends on whether there are other uses for the plastic and <a href="https://www.stalberttoday.ca/local-news/landfill-mulls-cement-solution-for-plastic-waste-1300974" target="_blank">how much plastic the cement plant there would take</a>. There are economic motivations to find out: Using waste plastic can increase profits at cement plants while reducing the amount of plastic going into landfills by roughly 30 percent.</p><p>A third solution is banning some plastic items. We determined that a ban on ubiquitous polystyrene shopping bags could reduce plastic waste in Trinidad and Tobago by 2,000 tons per year. Along with several other Caricom countries, Trinidad and Tobago has <a href="https://www.theyucatantimes.com/2019/12/caribbean-countries-that-will-ban-the-use-of-plastics-in-the-year-2020/" target="_blank">banned the use of these bags and other single-use plastics</a> starting Jan. 1.</p><div id="82946" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="469MMB1579381927"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1176130736748998656" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Why aren’t single use plastics banned in Trinidad and Tobago as yet ? https://t.co/w6Ak6cHIHs</div> — New year ... who dis ? (@New year ... who dis ?)<a href="https://twitter.com/duragsenpaii/statuses/1176130736748998656">1569246393.0</a></blockquote></div>
Measuring the Flow of Plastic: A Universal Solution<p>While these results are specific to Trinidad and Tobago, material flow analysis can be used in any country. This approach clarifies the real outcome of efforts to manage plastic. For example, it showed us that banning single-use plastic bags and plastic straws could be worthwhile, but should be part of a larger strategy that identifies and manages larger sources of waste plastic.</p><p>This kind of analysis does not have to be be expensive. Our study was based on publicly available data on imports and exports, manufacturing, and waste flows into landfills. Our results, although incomplete, were sufficient to spotlight workable solutions.</p><p>The main barriers to using material flow analysis are awareness and expertise. The method is not yet widely known, and relatively few people have been trained to do it. But in a globalized world, where huge quantities of goods and materials are constantly moving across borders, it is a valuable tool for tackling urgent waste management challenges.</p>
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