The new 100% recyclable packaging target is no use if our waste isn’t actually recycled

Having a 100% target is fantastic. But this does not mean that all of the waste we generate in 2025 will necessarily find its way to one of these destinations. For one thing, the definitions of different waste categories vary by state and territory, so there is no commonly accepted working definition of what constitutes “recyclable, compostable or reusable”.

Driving recycling

We can see this principle in action by looking at the issue of drink containers. Glass and plastic bottles are already 100% recyclable, yet there is a stark difference in recycling rates between states that do have container deposit schemes, and those that don’t.

In South Australia, which has had container deposit legislation for more than 40 years, almost 80% of drink bottles are recycled. But in Western Australia, where similar legislation is only at the discussion stage, the rate is just 65%.

Plastic not fantastic

In sectors where not all waste is fully recyclable, the problem is more complex still. Of the seven categories of plastic packaging, only three are economically viable to recycle: PET (soft drink bottles); HDPE (milk bottles); and PVC (shampoo bottles). The other four – LDPE (garbage bags); PP (microwaveable cookware); PS (foam hot drink cups); and other plastics – are less economically viable and so are recycled at much lower rates. While these plastics will still be allowed under the new target as they are technically recyclable, the new target might prompt a switch to less problematic materials.

Globally, around 78 million tonnes of plastic is used every year, but only 14% is collected for recycling, while 14% is incinerated and the remaining 72% ends up in landfill or as litter in the environment.

The problems are no less vexing for other types of waste. With market rates for many types of recyclable paper having dropped to zero in the wake of China’s import restrictions, it will be hard to see how some products will be recycled at all, if left purely to economic forces.

We need a better target

We’ve established that it’s not enough simply to set a target of making 100% of our waste recyclable, compostable or reusable. To really feel the benefits we need a follow-on target, such as actually recycling 100% of our packaging by 2030.

For this to work, we would need three things:

  1. legislation, regulations or incentives for manufacturers to develop new packaging types;
  2. an increase in public participation rates in recycling; and
  3. the development of a strong domestic market for recyclable materials.

Finally, we should remember that waste prevention is better than waste management. Everyone – from governments, to manufacturers, to retailers, to consumers – should focus first on generating less waste in the first place. Then the fiendish problem of what to do with our waste will be all the smaller.

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Re writable material could help reduce paper waste

Even in today’s digital age, the world still relies on paper and ink, most of which ends up in landfills or recycling centres. To reduce this waste, scientists have now developed a low-cost, environmentally friendly way to create printed materials with rewritable paper, which is made out of tungsten oxide and a common polymer used in medicines and food.

The U.S. has been working to reduce paper waste by increasing recycling efforts for years. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, more paper is now recovered for recycling than almost all other materials combined. This saves energy, water, landfill space and greenhouse gas emissions. But even more waste could be avoided if consumers could reuse paper many times before recycling or trashing it. So far, however, such products under development often are made with toxic, expensive organic dyes. Ting Wang, Dairong Chen and colleagues wanted to come up with a better solution.

The researchers created a film by mixing low-toxicity tungsten oxide with polyvinyl pyrrolidone. To “print” on it, they exposed the material to ultraviolet light for 30 seconds or more, and it changed from white to a deep blue. To make pictures or words, a stencil can be used so that only the exposed parts turn blue. To erase them, the material can simply sit in ambient conditions for a day or two. To speed up the erasing, the researchers added heat to make the colour disappear in 30 minutes. Alternatively, adding a small amount of polyacrylonitrile to the material can make designs last for up to 10 days. Testing showed the material could be printed on and erased 40 times before the quality started to decline.

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This rewritable paper can be ‘printed’ on with a stencil and UV light; it erases when exposed to oxygen in air or ozone.

Gather at 6th International Conference on Recycling and Waste Management which will be held in Dubai, U.A.E during December 3-5, 2018 to explore into the various recent researches in recycling and waste management areas.
To know more, visit: https://goo.gl/cHJJEa

A Whopping 91% of Plastic Isn’t Recycled

Billions of tons of plastic have been made over the past decades, and much of it is becoming trash and litter, finds the first analysis of the issue. Mass production of plastics, which began just six decades ago, has accelerated so rapidly that it has created 8.3 billion metric tons—most of it in disposable products that end up as trash. If that seems like an incomprehensible quantity, it is.

Plastic takes more than 400 years to degrade, so most of it still exists in some form. Only 12 percent has been incinerated. The study was launched two years ago as scientists tried to get a handle on the gargantuan amount of plastic that ends up in the seas and the harm it is causing to birds, marine animals, and fish. The prediction that by mid-century, the oceans will contain more plastic waste than fish, ton for ton, has become one of the most-quoted statistics and a rallying cry to do something about it.

You can’t Manage what you don’t measure

The new study reveals that the first global analysis of all plastics ever made—and their fate. Of the 8.3 billion metric tons that has been produced, 6.3 billion metric tons has become plastic waste. Of  that, only nine percent has been recycled. The vast majority—79 percent—is accumulating in landfills or sloughing off in the natural environment as litter. Meaning: at some point, much of it ends up in the oceans, the final sink.

If present trends continue, by 2050, there will be 12 billion metric tons of plastic in landfills. That amount is 35,000 times as heavy as the Empire State Building. Half the resins and fibres used in plastics were produced in the last 13 years, the study found. China alone accounts for 28 percent of global resin and 68 percent of polyester polyamide and acrylic fibres. Much of the growth in plastic production has been the increased use of plastic packaging, which accounts for more than 40 percent of non-fiber plastic.

Join our 6th International Conference on Recycling and Waste Management which will be held during December 3-5, 2018 at Dubai, U.A.E.
For more details, visit: https://goo.gl/gDtVYT

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How plastic-eating bacteria actually work – a chemist explains

The plastic bottles we throw away today will be around for hundreds of years. It’s one of the key reasons why the mounting plastic pollution problem, which is having a deadly effect on marine life, is so serious.

But scientists recently discovered a strain of bacteria that can literally eat the plastic used to make bottles, and have now improved it to make it work faster. The effects are modest – it’s not a complete solution to plastic pollution – but it does show how bacteria could help create more environmentally friendly recycling.

Plastics are complex polymers, meaning they are long, repeating chains of molecules that don’t dissolve in water. The strength of these chains makes plastic very durable and means it takes a very long time to decompose naturally. If they could be broken down into their smaller, soluble chemical units, then these building blocks could be harvested and recycled to form new plastics in a closed-loop system.

In 2016, scientists from Japan tested different bacteria from a bottle recycling plant and found that Ideonella sakaiensis 201-F6 could digest the plastic used to make single-use drinks bottles, polyethylene terephthalate (PET). It works by secreting an enzyme (a type of protein that can speed up chemical reactions) known as PETase. This splits certain chemical bonds (esters) in PET, leaving smaller molecules that the bacteria can absorb, using the carbon in them as a food source.

Although other bacterial enzymes were already known to slowly digest PET, the new enzyme had apparently evolved specifically for this job. This suggests it might be faster and more efficient and so have the potential for use in bio-recycling.

As a result, several teams have been trying to understand exactly how PETase works by studying its structure. In the past 12 months, groups from Korea, China and the UK, US and Brazil have all published work showing the structure of the enzyme at high resolution and analysing its mechanisms.

These papers show that the part of the PETase protein that performs the chemical digestion is physically tailored to bind to PET surfaces and works at 30°C, making it suitable for recycling in bio-reactors. Two of the teams also showed that by subtly changing the enzyme’s chemical properties so it interacted with PET differently made it work more quickly than the natural PETase.

Using enzymes from bacteria in bio-reactors to break down plastic for recycling is still easier said than done. The physical properties of plastics make them very difficult for enzymes to interact with.

The PET used in drinks bottles has a semi-crystalline structure, which means the plastic molecules are tightly packed and difficult for the enzyme to get to. The latest study shows that the enhanced enzyme probably worked well because the part of the molecule that is involved in the reaction is very accessible, making it easy for the enzyme to attack even the buried PET molecules.

Modest improvements

The improvements to the PETase activity were not dramatic, and we are nowhere near a solution to our plastic crisis. But this research helps us understand how this promising enzyme breaks down PET and hints at how we could make it work faster by manipulating its active parts.

It is relatively unusual to be able to engineer enzymes to work better than they have evolved through nature. Perhaps this achievement reflects the fact that the bacteria that use PETase are only recently evolved to survive on this man-made plastic. This could give scientists an exciting opportunity to overtake evolution by engineering optimised forms of PETase.

There is one worry, though. While any modified bacteria used in bioreactors are likely to be highly controlled, the fact that it evolved to degrade and consume plastic in the first place suggests this material we rely on so heavily may not be as durable as we thought.

If more bacteria began eating plastic in the wild then products and structures designed to last many years could come under threat. The plastics industry would face the serious challenge of preventing its products becoming contaminated with hungry micro-organisms.

Lessons from antibiotics teach us we are slow to outwit bacteria. But perhaps studies such as these will give us a head start.

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Recycling and Factors for successful recycling

What is Recycling?

I believe the term “recycling” is not a strange term for many of us. We would have at least got a vague idea of what recycling means even during the school days or through social media or even some would have started “recycling” as their way of life.
And not surprisingly, in many parts of the world, communities have already embraced the idea of recycling their unwanted materials for the various benefits of recycling.
In simple language, recycling is nothing but creating new things out of the old and used materials.
Recycling is a key and third component of the “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” waste hierarchy, which comprises three elements, reduce, reuse and recycle.

The old or used waste materials are broken down into their basic elements and then they are used as raw materials for creating other new materials out of it. In fact, the recycling process differs for different materials.

Factors for successful recycling:

The following factors describe what is recycling success determined by. These factors are very important if our recycling efforts are to make a difference.

  1. Products designed for recycling – For recycling to be possible in the first place, products must be designed with recycling or environmental protection in mind.
  2. Recyclable collection – To ensure that there is a constant supply of recyclables for the recycling process, recyclables need to be systematically collected from their sources (eg. households, schools, etc). They need to be separated from trash and other wastes to prevent contamination, and sorted by type of material to facilitate processing.
  3. Processing – The recyclable materials collected need to be sorted by the type of material to facilitate processing, and need to be broken down into its basic elements, and then be reused as raw materials to produce new products.
  4. Demand for recycled products – The “Recycling Cycle” will only be completed when the new products are put to use. As much as it is important to send your recyclable items for recycling, it is also important to use recycled products to ensure that recycling becomes a economically viable activity within your community.

To know more about the recent advancement in recycling process and the different ways that each communities handles their wastes to recycle, join us at 6th International Conference on Recycling and Waste Management at Dubai during December 3-5, 2018.

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