The Future of Recycling Plastics
Plastic can take decades to break down, and the average American produces 220 pounds of it each year. Without new solutions, plastic will continue to fill up landfills, end up in oceans, and pollute the environment.
Unfortunately, plastic has always been difficult to recycle. Because of this, many companies opt to create new plastic because it’s a faster and more economically-favorable solution. Over the past few years, several innovative companies have introduced new ways of recycling plastics both here and abroad.
Introducing Polydiketoenamine (PDK)
In 2019, the Berkeley National Laboratory released information about a type of plastic known as PDK. The alternative type of plastic comes with all the benefits of traditional plastic but is much easier to recycle. Recycling companies can easily convert plastic products made from PDK into a new type of product without impacting the quality. This is not the case with traditional plastics.
The research team from Berkeley National Laboratory recently released information that PDK could compete with or replace conventional plastics when used on a large scale. They also feel that PDK will drop in price over time even as it becomes more sustainable.
Currently, less than 10 percent of traditional recycled plastic demonstrates the same or higher quality as the original product. The leading reason for this issue is that plastic polymers mix with several types of incompatible materials during the recycling process to produce a low-quality product. The use of PDX plastic eliminates this problem because its resin polymers break down easily into monomers when mixed with acid. The monomers make it possible to separate the resin polymers from additives that could decrease the quality of the recycled plastic.
Recycling Plastics: Turning Bags into Benches
Plastic film bags at grocery stores may be convenient, but they are also difficult to recycle. The Rotary Club of Summit County in Colorado decided they were up for the challenge. They collected more than 500 pounds of the small and stretchy plastic bags within a period of six months. Here are the other types of bags they collected for the project:
- Bubble wrap
- Dry cleaning bags
- Pallet wrap
- Produce bags
- Product and case wrap
- Any small plastic bag with a #2 or #4 recycling symbol on it
The Rotary Club in Colorado got their idea from a Rotary Club in Oregon and is now doing its part to get the message out across the country. The plastic bags became part of a bench that the club proudly displays in Summit County.
The Nation’s First Commercial-Scale Plastic-to-Fuel Plant
San Francisco-based waste and energy development company Brightmark Energy recently opened a recycling plant in Indiana that does things differently from any of its predecessors. Brightmark solicits donations of plastic products at the end of their lifecycle, such as Styrofoam cups, toys, plastic film, and single-use water bottles, and converts them into wax and fuel.
BP Oil was one of Brightmark Energy’s first customers because it helped the oil giant solve its own pollution problem. The diesel fuel made from recycled plastic has extremely low levels of sulphur compared to traditional fuel.
While these new solutions to an old problem are exciting, it appears they represent only the beginning. Hopefully soon, more governments and business will be recycling plastics in meaningful ways.