Air QualityClean GrowthEnvironment & Climate

Plastic recycling & ‘recovery’. Fuelling a future of circular economic innovation & invention.

By February 25, 2020 No Comments

A staggering 8 million tonnes of plastic find it’s way into our oceans every year, with at least 80% of this coming from land sources (1)

With planet earth being covered in 71% water, this is an astronomical amount & the costs to our marine diversity are devastating. Reports of micro plastics entering the human food chain are commonplace & periodically whales washed up on beaches have been found to have thousands of kgs of waste plastics in their gut.

‘In a 2015 report, the non-profit Ocean Conservancy noted that 55 to 60 percent of plastic waste entering the oceans comes from just five countries, including four in the region: China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam.’ (2)

The report titled ‘Stemming the tide: Land-based strategies for a plastic- free ocean’ (3) suggested ‘coordinated action in just these five countries could significantly reduce the global leakage of plastic waste into the ocean by 2025. Specifically, interventions in these five countries could reduce global plastic-waste leakage by approximately 45 percent over the next ten years (3)

We live in a time where the use & seeming need for plastics is increasing, rather than decreasing. With the human population accepting the loss of seasonality in our food chains for example, there is an expectation for un-seasonal foods to survive longer in transportation & packaging. Furthermore, with plastics moving through global supply chains, supporting global companies & despite plastic products having short useful lives; the longevity of plastic molecules themselves means that plastic waste travels far across borders & into our common high seas (3)

Despite environmentally sensitive & sustainable packaging companies developing fully degradable & biodegradable products all the time; the astronomical amount of plastic waste still being produced globally is unfathomable.

Many global projects are trying to clean up the Oceans. The Sky Ocean Rescue project has invested £25m in alternatives to plastics & is collaborating with the WWF to protect the oceans. Global clean up projects are struggling to remove the plastics before they begin to break down & add further pollution in the form of microplastics. The ‘Ocean Cleanup’ founded by Dutch inventor Boyan Slat is developing advanced technologies to rid the world’s oceans of plastic, which includes a passive ocean cleanup technology, that moves with the currents – just like the plastic – to catch it. By deploying a fleet of systems, The Ocean Cleanup has estimated to be able to remove 50% of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch every five years. (4)

Therefore, we are all painfully aware of the problem. However, what is the solution & how can we recycle & or ‘recover’ from the millions of tonnes of plastics being sent to recycling plants, headed for landfill or coming from our oceans?

There are many companies who are forging ahead with UK Government backing to recover & repurpose plastics which would otherwise end in landfill.

Recycling Technologies – Recovering & recycling plastics into a synthetic version of crude oil

Recycling technologies having benefited from a £644,734 investment from Innovate UK. The premise of the investment is to assist with the R&D of their thermal cracking technologies, which enables plastics destined for landfill to be ‘recovered’ & recycled into alternative products.

The Recycling Technologies RT7000 is capable of processing the recovered plastic via thermal cracking into an ultra low sulphur hydrocarbon product branded as Plaxx. Plaxx is a synthetic equivalent of crude oil. It can be used as a low sulphur fuel or chemical feedstock (naphtha) to make new plastics. (5)

Municipal waste at Material Recovery Facilities (MRF), food contaminated plastic packaging waste from Anaerobic Digestion (AD) plants and Recovered Plastic Litter (RPL) in water treatment facilities are some of the largest sources of plastic waste. (5)

With more than a quarter of the UK’s 3.2MT of plastic waste sent to landfill because it is contaminated with organic material or other plastics; the challenge is to find a way to recover the plastic from this waste stream & reduce the ever-increasing plastic pollution. (5)

MacRebur – Recycling plastics bottles into bitumen

MacRebur have been making waves in the media with their recycled plastics road systems. MacRebur’s CEO & Founder Toby McCartney having worked with charitable organisations in India helping reclaim goods from vast landfill sites; was inspired by an innovate way the locals had for filling potholes in roads. He witnessed large sheets of unwanted plastics being pushed in to the potholes, diesel being poured over the top & set on fire. The plastic would melt in to the hole & thus fixing the problem.

Upon his return, McCartney got together with two friends, Nick & Gordon, and formed MacRebur®. The team came up with our innovative idea to take a mix of waste plastics, granulate them and add them into the making of an enhanced asphalt road.(6)

After years of tests and trials all over the world, MacRebur now promote 3 waste plastic additives into asphalt. All of the products meet various worldwide roads standards and have been rigorously tested against standard asphalt, bitumen and Polymer Modified Bitumen.(6)

The numbers & data in relation to the MacRebur product, speaks for itself. For each km of road laid using the MacRebur product, they use the equivalent weight of 684,000 bottles or 1.8MT of single use plastic bags. 1 tonne of the MacRebur road mix contains the equivalent of 80,000 plastic bottles. (6)

Luxus – Recycling & recovering odour contaminated plastics

One area of plastic recycling & recovery which is often overlooked, is the plastic waste which has become contaminated with food produce & or tainted with perfumes, odours & ‘scent memory’ from detergents, cleaning products & industrial chemicals. These plastics cannot be added to the general recycling mix, as they would further contaminate the recycling stream.

Therefore, UK company Luxus have developed a process for just this form of plastics recycling. Having won an InnovateUK grant, Project Manager Chris Kerridge said in a recent interview with British Plastic & Rubber Magazine: “We are pleased that Innovate UK has recognised the importance of developing a process that will allow for the cost-efficient reprocessing of polymer that was previously uneconomic to recover due to retained odour.”

“We aim to address this challenge by removing retained odour so that the waste polymer can be reprocessed for use in high value products in the civil engineering, automotive, horticulture and detergent packaging industries” (7)

One of Luxus other innovative plastic recycling projects is their trademark ‘Bin2Bin’ project, whereby local councils can submit damaged or end of life waste bins to Luxus, who can then recycle the plastic & then reform the pellets back in to more waste bins & return to the councils they came from.

Plastic recycling & ‘recovery’ is an essential way in which the population of Earth can & will, not only clean up our oceans & avoid landfill being filled with non-degradable plastics; but it will continue our push towards a net zero environment, both in the UK & around the world.

Written by Katy-Jane Mason for & on behalf of dolphin N2.