The challenges of plastic recycling: every minute the equivalent of a garbage truck is dumped into the sea

Plastic recycling

Plastic consumption at both the domestic and industrial levels has been increasing steadily for decades. In 1950, the world’s population was about 2,5 billion people, generating 1,5 million tons of plastic. Almost seventy years later, in 2016, the world was inhabited by 7 billion people and plastic production exceeded 320 million tons. That is to say: the population multiplied by three, but plastic production by two hundred.

Today it’s impossible to maintain our quality of life and our level of development without plastics. However, some materials have been abused and their waste has been mismanaged globally. 

Only a fraction of plastic packaging is recycled globally

Almost 80% of plastic packaging ends up in landfills, incinerated or in the environment. In the best of cases, packaging that goes to the yellow container, its recycling is often inefficient and doesn’t achieve the desired purpose.

Split reasons:

  • There are containers whose design hinders or prevents their recycling: those that include self-adhesive labels, bottles that use a PVC coating for the product’s brand, bricks or food packaging trays in the manufacture of which various types of plastic are mixed.
  • In biological mechanical treatment plants, containers are screening for size: those smaller than 80-100 mm (single dose hostelries, yogurts, straws, plugs, etc.) are difficult to recover for recycling and are deposited in a landfill or incinerated.

Both the landfill and the incineration of this type of waste is highly polluting. At least 132 substances or groups of substances with a potential health concern that can generate toxic emissions or contaminate leachates are used in the manufacture of plastic products.

Only a fraction is converted into waste fuels. These uses as a substitute for fossil fuels the calorific potential of waste that cannot be recycled or otherwise reused. This type of fuel is currently used mainly in the cement industry.

A final outlet for unrecycled plastic products is the export to developing countries. A perverse system that only changes the site problem.

Under these circumstances, SPR Group offers its services as a supplier and technology integrator in the form of solutions for the management and recovery of plastic waste. In this regard, it should be noted that plastic recycling accounts for 20% of the energy needed to produce virgin plastics.

 

The alarming figures of plastic in the sea

One of the most problematic consequences of poor management of plastic waste has been the pollution of the marine environment. It’s estimated that eight million tonnes end up in the oceans every year, and some forecasts war that, if we don’t reverse the situation, by 2050 there will be more plastics than fish at sea.

This data is equivalent to dumping a garbage truck full of plastic every minute, with added drawback that it takes more than 400 years for the materials to decomposed in the marine environment.

Of all the plastic in the oceans, it’s estimated that 268.940 tons correspond to micro plastics, particles of less than 5 mm in diameter that easily pass into the food chain and end up in our bodies through fish or water. There’s research that reveals that these materials can obstruct the pulmonary alveoli and alter hormones, leading to problems such as infertility or hypothyroidism. Some of these particles are bisphenols and phathalates, substances that have been shown in various studies to be hormonal disruptors.

Researcher Phillip Schwabl, a hepatologist from the University of Vienna  (Austria), analysed the faeces of eight individuals from different countries; the results revealed that despite the different diets of the volunteers, the micro plastic figures found in their samples were similar: between 18 and 172 particles x 10 grams.

The plastic crisis is today a major environmental problem that also affects 700 marine species. According to Greenpeace data, more than a million birds and 100,000 mammals die each year as a result of plastic waste reaching the oceans.

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