This is the general opinion of some of the leading observers in the plastics industry in Europe – those who are trying to reorganize the industry.
While plastics, in all their diversity, have been firmly rooted in all aspects of our lives, “plasticophobia” has entered the language as a form of frustration, and lawmakers are taking tough measures on an industry that already has a number of complex problems.
Unipack.Ru editorial office offers readers a translation of an article based on materials from speeches and interviews at the Circularity for Polymers: The ICIS Recycling Conference, which took place in November in Berlin (Germany). But there should be no plasticophobia. Do not demonize plastic. Rather, it should be considered as the main issue of modern life, which it actually is. The problem is not plastic as such, but rather plastic processing and its improper use.
The plastics industry has become clearly aware of itself, someone might even say, has become prone to introspection. Prescriptions must be fulfilled, new production methods researched, developed and implemented, consumer training carried out, and compliance with customer expectations achieved. And over all this hangs the spirit of environmental friendliness and demonization of plastic.
Speaking at the Circularity for Polymers: The ICIS Recycling Conference, held in Berlin in November 2019, on polymers in closed-loop economics, Paul Hodges, chairman of International E-Chem, said there was an awful lot to do. work to be completed as soon as possible.
“It’s clear that the industry is undergoing major changes. Companies are becoming aware of the fact that plastic waste is really a big problem that won’t leave us anywhere. In the next few years, disposable plastic products will be on the line of fire, and business models just need to change, ”he stressed.
Hodges added that the required changes are based on the fact that people do not know how to dispose of plastic, but understand why we should do this: “We do not have ready-made technologies. We do not have a collection process diagram. “We need to get away from throwing garbage into a landfill and instead focus on the development of resource centers based on a distributed network of local plastic processing plants.”
Such a shift to small local plastic processing plants that are more efficient and productive in the separation of different types of plastics and will better help fulfill the dream of a closed-loop economy, is just around the corner, but this is still an emerging industry.
Richard Daley, Managing Director of ReNew ELP, at the forefront of chemical recycling. ReNew ELP is in the final stages of creating the first of four plastic processing lines, each of which will process 20,000 tons per year. Their Cat-HTR technology uses what Daily describes as “a unique hydrothermal modification process that uses supercritical water to separate plastics into reusable, valuable chemicals and oils.”
Interestingly, the desired raw material for processing is residual plastic after mechanical recycling, such as a flexible multilayer film, and ReNew ELP sees itself as an addition to the mechanical recycling process.
Supporting Daley, ICIS senior editor, Recycling, Mark Victory said: “In theory, chemical regeneration is better – but there are objections to cost and output. “In theory, everything is fine, but there are still the same problems with collection – and it will take five to ten years (optimistic forecast) before we see large-scale chemical regeneration.”
Victory reveals yet another obstacle, in the sense that the collection is simply not large enough. He says that local governments, which have the bulk of the responsibility for collecting household waste, have received insufficient funding since the global economic crisis that took place more than ten years ago, and as a result, investments in infrastructure have ceased to correspond to the growing complexity of packaging. This domestic problem was further aggravated by China’s decision to stop accepting plastic waste from other countries.
“Investments in waste collection have begun to lag behind the growing complexity of packaging,” explains Victory. – And since China stopped accepting waste, there were more undesirable impurities in domestic recycling, and the proportion of waste increased because China usually accepted lower quality waste, which it could use in industries such as textiles, but which are now pressed into briquettes domestically . The scale of demand and the insufficient amount of material also means that it has to be produced at maximum capacity and work at the limit, which also affects the level of pollution. For example, we have seen that the percentage of waste in recycled polyethylene terephthalate has increased from 25% in 2009 to 30-35% now. ”
Hodges added that what the industry is in dire need of is project teams that decide how to produce more environmentally friendly products and improve waste collection and recycling facilities.
“We have 18 months to find a solution,” warned Hodges. – Because, if we do not do this, the producers will say: “Listen, we have committed ourselves to our customers that we will do it by 2025. But you don’t move. Therefore, we will do something else. ” We have six years to develop a solution – and we don’t know what to do. ”
Hodges believes that manufacturers who have committed themselves to completing work by 2025 need assurances from the plastics industry. “We need to turn to manufacturers and say that we have decided on technology, a business model and financing, so trust us, we will give a result, so you can do what you need,” he says.
ICL Senior Plastic Recycling Analyst Helen McGeough explains: “Plastic packaging is now more complex than ever, modern packaging has gone beyond its functionality and has become a marketing tool. But we need to divide it again, bringing it to a simple level, and recommend the concept of processing at the development stage.
With its Directive on the use of disposable plastic products, the EU has set a high standard, demanding to increase the level of waste collection even at an output level in 2018 for plastic bottles in Europe of 63% and 55% in the UK. In European countries, the level of PET collection in all Member States is not the same, reflecting the difference in systems, consumer participation and the ability of the government to make investment in waste management a priority. This lack of standardization in everything from the infrastructure of the waste management system to the final receipt of the product specification for recycled PET continues to pose as many challenges as opportunities for one of the most developed recycling markets in the plastics industry. ”
Mark Victory says: “The sector needs major investments to bridge the gap in the whole chain. It makes no sense that everyone wants to recycle waste if there is no infrastructure. We hope that people will understand and support the recycling system, which is difficult to predict. There is a certain educational element. For most people, plastic is just plastic, they have no idea about the different types and what to do with it. ”
Hodges agrees that investments are needed, noting that the industry must provide financing: “The amount that the industry allocates for these dramatic changes is a drop in the bucket. Twenty-five million here, ten million there – well, guys, you know, we are talking about the one hundred billionth industry. You can’t start with pocket money! ”