Challenges of plastic waste
Original by Dr. Steve Wong 黃楚祺博士
Recently, I attended the Meeting of the Conferences of The Parties to the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions (COP15) organized by the United Nations in Geneva from June 6-17. The meeting brought together officials, observers, guest groups, experts, and media from more than 180 countries worldwide. As plastic pollution has been at the media’s focus and public and government attention, the television scene of a turtle suffocated by plastic wrap has provoked an extreme reaction from the crowd. However, the pollution of our environment and natural habitats does not only come from plastic; it includes all kinds of used and unused materials derived from all types of production.
As an industry stakeholder, I have the opportunity to share our industry insight with others through the media, the United Nations Environment Program Online Webinar and relevant ministers of various countries.
The following are the highlights of my presentation:
- The recycling industry includes plastics and metals, paper, used tires, and clothing. However, most people, including Governments and media, put their focus on plastic recovery and blame this industry for polluting the environment.
- We often note governments and the media mention that the global plastic recycling rate is 9%. Still, conflicting reports suggest that the worldwide recycling rate ranges from 10% to 30%, depending on how data is collected.
- Plastic recycling requires plastic waste collection and separation to be supported by infrastructure such as MRF (Material Recovery Facilities), not just the grinding, processing and pelletizing of plastic.
- Worldwide recyclers, including Asia, Europe, and the United States, currently face a shortage of feedstock for pelletizing due to an insufficient supply of sorted waste. Asian recyclers are operating at 30% or less than their production capacity. Developed countries have an over capacity for pelletizing.
- Due to the insufficient understanding of waste classification, some shipping companies have declined to accept sorted and processed plastic scrap for export from OECD to Non-OECD countries. This action jeopardizes the regular plastic waste supply in Southeast Asia and other countries.
- To avoid confusion, a definition and classification is needed to distinguish between waste and processed waste derived from post-industry and post-consumer.
- With technological advancement, developing countries are using the latest technology like electrostatic and near-infrared machines to identify and automatically separate different kinds of wastes before processing them into pellets. People must realize that developing countries can recycle plastic waste technologically and scientifically.
- With the voluntary and mandatory use of recycling content, there is a huge demand for recycled plastic materials. Due to the insufficient supply of plastic waste feedstock for recycling, there is a gap between supply and demand.
In conclusion, plastic recycling is the most effective solution to reduce and minimize plastic waste from ending up in an open environment. I would like to take this opportunity to share my views with different stakeholders and look forward to their comments.
A table to show the disconnect between recycled materials needed against what is available.