David Rakowski, circular economy expert at PA Consulting, discusses the challenges with recycling plastics in the US.
Consider this: A shocking amount of plastic waste ends up in America’s landfills. Specifically, Americans produce about 35 million tons of recyclable plastic garbage each year, with only 10 percent being recycled. And the amount that is recycled faces a difficult process for a myriad of reasons – including a mix of plastics with different properties, multi-layered packaging and plastic purification issues.
David says: “One of biggest challenges with plastics recycling is sorting and cleaning of plastics. Mechanical recycling is the lowest energy form, lower than chemical (the emerging recycling technology). Whereas chemical will handle pollutants to a certain level and bring them back to virgin, the mechanical is far more sensitive to them.”
David pointed out that with the move to thinner plastics and films, another challenge emerges surrounding the purification of plastics in the recycling process. “Though less energy and material is required to make the plastic – because it is thin – you have much more surface area to mass ratio so it takes more energy to clean less plastic, tipping the scales in the opposite direction. This whole recycling business is one big systemic question, you play with something in one place and it impacts something somewhere else.”
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