Consumer demand and corporate responsibility are driving more sustainability in the marketplace. In addition to composting, traditional recycling, and plastic alternatives, there is another area with room for advancement in the effort toward sustainable product life cycles. Using advanced recycling and recovery technologies, we can turn many hard to recycle, single-use plastic products back into their basic forms for use in many different areas. Here’s a closer look at advanced recycling and recovery technologies and how they can help build a more sustainable world.
What Is It?
From plastic wrap to toys, there are an abundance of items that traditional recycling centers don’t accept. Advanced recycling is the latest trend in the sustainability movement enabling the chemicals and plastics industry to melt down items that were not traditionally recyclable in the past and destined for the landfill to create useful products.
How Does It Work?
Plastics are gathered at a facility and sorted to remove contaminants then are heated to a gas form and then cooled into oil or other components. This transforms plastics back to their basic materials for future use. The process creates fewer emissions than other industries and the raw materials can be reused instead of polluting the ocean or overburdening landfills. It might not be the perfect solution for reducing the negative impact that plastic has on the environment but using both advanced and traditional recycling methods is a promising approach. Many of the plastic alternatives that have been introduced increase solid waste, water consumption, and energy use.
The Challenges of Bioplastics
Plant-based plastics have emerged as a potential alternative to petroleum-based plastic. Bioplastics are derived from plants or other biological materials and they are already being used in a variety of ways including food packaging and medical devices. Even though plastic is being produced from cheap materials, environmentalists have identified at least two major challenges. First, dedicating land to grow plants to make plastic is taking away space previously reserved for growing food. Another concern is the lack of composting sites that are required to degrade bioplastics. Absent of intense heat, bioplastics can last for decades in marine environments similar to petroleum-based products.
Since items are sent to an advance recycling and recovery facility, it’s expected to create thousands of high-paying specialty chemicals jobs across the country. Employees at these facilities will be trained to melt plastic down and condense it into other valuable products like oil, fuels, or other petroleum-based products on the market.
To gain better traction toward a sustainable future, we’ll need to look to a “both and” approach to solving the problems of plastic pollution and the need for better recycling. Unfortunately, only a limited number of states have enacted the necessary legislation to allow advanced recycling and recovery methods. This leaves residents in other states with very few options outside of traditional recycling until their laws are updated. A multifaceted approach combining traditional with advanced recycling is an effective way to improve sustainability as we learn more about balancing the use of alternatives like bioplastics.
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