Waste recovery and plastic recycling technologies have become a hotly debated topic.
Supporters of novel methods - such as chemical recycling - assert that the new technologies will supplement the traditional mechanical recycling and provide an alternative to landfill and incineration for hard-to-recycle plastic products (multi-layered and laminated plastics). The opponents say that focusing on development of new waste treatment distracts us from addressing the root cause of the problem - excessive use and production of plastic packaging.
Let's have a look at some data - in 2015, plastic production, use and disposal was estimated to have contributed 1.8 billion metric tons of CO2 into the atmosphere. The International Energy Agency estimates that plastics and other petrochemical products will drive global oil demand to 2050, while, if the growth continues, the plastic sector is set to exhaust 19% of the global carbon budget till 2040. At the same time, a staggering 90% of plastic worldwide goes unrecycled.
In light of the above, chemical recycling technology, which could recreate raw materials and produce recycled plastics with the same characteristics of virgin plastic, makes sense as a complementary method of reducing the demand for virgin plastic production. However, this should be accompanied by the necessary redesign of product packaging aimed at eliminating the consumer reliance on plastic all together. Further, other means of encouraging such market shift, such as plastic packaging tax, have the potential to significantly speed up the transition.
Yet for all the hype, there remain many doubters. With the petrochemicals industry planning to invest $400bn into new capacity over five years, according to climate think-tank Carbon Tracker, campaigners view these novel waste treatments as a distraction from the root of the problem: overproduction of packaging.