We Need a Radical Change to How We Recycle!

The majority of single-use plastics, like shampoo bottles and drinking straws, end up in our landfills, incinerated, or simply make their way into the environment, where they cause further issues.

The US on its own discards 40 million tons of it every year, which amounts to disposing of 100 Empire State Buildings in a single year.

Plastic waste has grown into a major issue

In fact, it’s gotten so bad that some scientists are predicting by 2050, we’ll have more plastic than fish in the ocean.

With each passing day, that doesn’t seem too far off, considering it’s hard to visit a beach without finding at least a bottle or two.

Thankfully, not all is lost. With the technology we have today, we can look at all of this plastic waste as an energy-harvesting opportunity, rather than just a used resource that’ll plague our oceans for centuries.

The previously mentioned single-use plastics, which are labeled as 2, 4, and 5, also known as HDPE, LDPE, and PP, respectively, are made from chemicals refined from oil and gas, amounting to 0.3% of our energy consumption.

Instead of making use of this incredibly energy-demanding resource, we let it clog our landfills and pollute our ecosystem, and that’s about to change.

By adjusting the way we think about single-use plastics, we could give them a purpose once they’ve been discarded, inadvertently strengthening our energy economy.

Solving the plastic waste crisis one step at a time

Even though recycling has been around for a while, only 10% of all plastics are collected to be recycled here in the US. Even then, the process isn’t a circular one, as it is for glass and aluminum.

This is caused by the fact that the mechanical recycling process reduces the performance quality of the material, with the end result being a far less useful plastic.

The main reason we even rely on this process is the fact that the chemicals which make up these plastics make them extremely difficult to break down any other way.

With no other means to recycle them, we have to resort to whatever works, in this case, that being a mechanical recycling process that prevents us from having a proper circle of life for these plastic materials.

However, chemical recycling has been under development for a few years now. It may have finally become a viable alternative that can help us turn plastic into a valuable resource once we’re done using it.

This may also increase the overall motivation for harvesting and reducing the amount of plastic that makes its way to our landfills and oceans.

A laboratory at the Colorado School of Mines discovered an abundant material that can help break down polyethylene and polypropylene polymers with ease, at temperatures hundreds of degrees lower than those currently being used for chemical recycling.

This means that we can address the plastic crisis with far lower consumption of energy; although further research is required to make this process a sustainable one.

This article appeared in The Record Daily and has been published here with permission.