What are the challenges associated with plastic recycling?

Пластик. Переробка відходів полімерів

Waste plastics are a valuable resource that can be recycled. But today, most plastic waste is incinerated. However, with adequate knowledge about the different types and properties of plastics, we can recover many more raw materials than we currently can. Closed-loop plastic production is possible, but it is important to recognize the challenges associated with recycling plastic waste.

What you need to remember about plastic recycling

The term “plastic” covers a wide range of materials consisting of synthetic polymers (man-made and not found in nature). When plastic is recycled, a melting process occurs, the purpose of which is to obtain regranulate, which is reused in production.

The melting point is critical here and is often different for different materials. Due to the lack of knowledge about the properties and parameters of plastics, different types of plastic are combined during production, which ultimately negatively affects its processing.

For example, if, when melted, one of the plastics has a lower melting value than the others, it will burn, contaminating the entire plastic and making it impossible to reuse all materials. Due to the frequent mixing of different types of plastic in one product, most plastic waste is used for energy recovery, which is a huge waste of resources.

To ensure that plastics remain in circulation as long as possible, nuances such as:

  • selection of materials at the product design stage;
  • subsequent appropriate separation of materials;
  • sorting and collecting.
What are the challenges associated with plastic recycling?

The importance of reusing materials

It often turns out that using virgin raw materials in production is cheaper than recycled ones. And this negatively affects the interest of enterprises in such a process as plastic recycling.

Of course, the value and importance of plastic recycling for the environment and sustainability is undeniable. However, it is important to emphasize and remind stakeholders the importance of reusing materials.

It is also important to recognize that in order for recycled plastic to be accepted in the market as a desirable raw material, stable and ongoing access to it is necessary.

Even at the sketching stage – design consciously

It often happens that when designing various plastic products, materials are combined in such a way that the separation of individual elements is difficult and, therefore, their recycling is impossible. This applies, for example, to mixing different types of plastic or using materials such as glue or metal screws.

To prevent this, it is worth thinking through the entire product cycle (eco-design) even in sketches and during the design process. This will make it easier to disassemble the product in the future, without the risk of recycling leftovers from other materials. However, this requires knowledge in the field of materials science.