Creating a Circular Plastic Economy

By Carrissa Pahl Published on Oct. 29, 2020

When plastic is recycled, where does it go? How much of it is actually recycled and reused? According to studies, only 9% of all recycled materials thrown into recycling bins are properly recycled. Instead, many recyclable materials are strewn into nature while also harming the environment. It is estimated that every year, almost 8 million tons of plastic are dumped into our oceans

Creating a circular plastic economy is one of the best solutions to plastic pollution. Not only can plastic recycling help save the environment, it can also give back to the economy by creating jobs, save up to 5.774 kWh in energy, and reduce C02 emissions by lowering oil consumption. 

The Problem: Mechanical Recycling

Since plastic was invented six decades ago, a whopping 8.3 billion metric tons have been produced and piled up in landfills. Despite their many benefits, plastics end-of-life management is the key issue for which innovative solutions are required.

Since plastic was invented six decades ago, a whopping 8.3 billion metric tons have been produced and piled up in landfills. 

Mechanical Recycling is the process of collecting plastic debris, washing, melting, and having the waste transformed into raw material for a new, productive process of plastic transformation. This is the most traditional method in the world, and also what consumers typically hear about when they think of recycling.

However, according to a study done by the European Food and Safety Organization, the granulate that is produced when mechanical recycling occurs often can not be used to make consumer-grade packaging material, including food packaging. This is because the plastic may contain hazardous material to human health. 

In a linear plastic economy, materials are produced and consumed and then mechanically recycled. The average person assumes that everything they throw into their blue recycling bin gets recycled and reused into new materials. That’s the whole point of recycling, right? The truth is, plastic and other recyclables are often contaminated and therefore can not be recycled as they normally would. 

Instead, creating a circular plastic economy would prove to be much more beneficial to both consumers and the environment. There needs to be a way to bring this full-circle. 

Completing the Circle

Some new recycling technologies are focusing their efforts on how they can create and contribute ways to improve the circular economy. In a circular economy, we keep resources in use for as long as possible, extract the maximum value from them while in use, then recover and regenerate products and materials at the end of their service life. 

How Does Chemical Recycling Help Complete the Circle?

In mechanical recycling facilities, employees are expected to hand-sort through the recycling that comes down the conveyor belts. This can lead to injuries, sickness, and other complications. As well as humans being inherently slower in the sorting process, it can be very time consuming and chemical recycling can help by reducing time and eventually allowing those who are spending their work hours sorting, to do other - more important jobs

With more and more companies finding new ways to break down and reuse plastic material, the end goal of a waste-free environment becomes more of a reality. These methods include breaking down plastics into their original monomer form, dissolution, and compressing plastics into new materials. These processes look to make the recycling process more efficient, predictable, and reliable. 

Breaking down plastics into their original, virgin form has many benefits. Plastics are usually solid whereas the original monomers are often liquid so it is easier to break down and create new and improved products. Separating and eliminating impurities of plastics can help get back the original form of the plastic which would increase value and make it seem just as if it were a new piece of plastic. This regeneration process allows plastics to have infinite opportunities to be recycled and reused over and over again. 

Chemical recycling has the potential to use fossil fuels for production and recycle efforts. This will help the environment by decreasing our society’s dependence on crude oil imports as well as making an effort to decrease our carbon footprint. This new way of recycling shows many possibilities for the future and trying to eliminate as much plastic waste from our environment as possible.

Startups Making a Difference

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Pyrowave provides a unique technology to regenerate post-consumer plastics by breaking them down into intermediate products that are used to make plastics identical to virgin plastics, restoring their full value. Pyrowave paves the way to a true circular economy of plastics. Plastics are made of "blocks" (i.e., monomers) which are assembled into long chains called polymers. Pyrowave technology helps break the bonds between the monomers without damaging them, thus allowing monomers to be reassembled again in new chains to form new plastics, identical to brand new ones. This approach has many benefits, since it is easier to purify the monomers because they are liquid while plastics are solid. Current technologies can effectively separate impurities from liquids by distillation and thus find the original quality monomer used by the industry to remanufacture brand new products. The regeneration of plastics allows for an infinite recycling and avoids the GHGs associated with the extraction of virgin material.

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Their unique, eco-friendly process uses steam and compression to convert all types of plastic waste into a revolutionary building material called ByBlock. ByBlock is a 16 X 8 X 8 inch material that can be used to build homes and buildings. Byfusion uses no glues or adhesives to make the product. This means saving time with quicker installation. Standard concrete blocks tend to crack and crumble, but these will not. One ton of plastic makes one ton of ByBlock. ByFusion’s Blocker system turns 100% of plastic waste into ByBlock – an advanced, cost-effective building material.

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Polystyvert has developed a breakthrough technology for recycling polystyrene, using a dissolution process that works on all types of polystyrene: expanded, extruded and injection-moulded. Our recycled polystyrene product is of very high quality and can easily be re-extruded or re-injected, allowing many applications to incorporate 100% recycled materials. We offer a unique solution for environmental protection. When polystyrene is put in contact with our essential oil, it dissolves like sugar in water. The process is very quick; it takes just a few seconds. Moreover, Polystyvert has perfected a coarse filtration process or screening that allows large contaminants to be removed rapidly and easily, such as cardboard, paper, other plastics, metals, etc. Finally, the recycled polystyrene is formed into pellets that can be used for all classical applications, such as extrusion or injection-moulding, with 100% recycled content or mixed with virgin polystyrene pellets.

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The Good Plastic Company is a mission-driven organisation that is determined to contribute to solving the problem of the 400 million tonnes of plastic waste that are generated annually. Plastic waste pollutes our oceans and affects our food chain and more; we want to address one of humanity’s greatest challenges. We produce environmentally friendly panels from recycled plastic. They are high quality and have the lowest ecological footprint possible. Each panel is made from a single type of plastic so it can be easily recycled, extending its use indefinitely.

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BioCellection brings together innovations in recycling, chemistry, and material science to deliver sustainable materials that enable a circular economy and supply chain resiliency. With BioCellection’s ground-breaking Accelerated Thermal Oxidative Decomposition™ (ATOD) platform and innovative materials that deliver both performance and sustainability, manufacturers and brands can meet aggressive sustainability goals and unlock new business opportunities with increased brand appeal. The BioCellection platform allows customers to build quality products while doing their share to make the world a better place.

Learn more about our End Plastic Waste Innovation Platform and our partnership with the Alliance to End Plastic Waste. 

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Identifying the problem and putting an end to plastic waste.

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