Plastic waste is a global and growing problem

Since plastic began to be mass-produced in the 1950s, it has seeped into every corner of our lives. Remote controls, plastic bottles and toothbrushes are just a few examples that many of us meet on a daily basis. In the end, most of these plastic items end their lives as unnecessary and unusable – and they are thrown away. On a global scale, this adds up to heavy amounts, and today the world population produces more than 260 million tonnes of plastic waste every year.

From the 1950s and up until today, the global production of plastic products has been growing. Steadily, but not at all slowly. In 2018, the world produced in total 359 million tonnes of plastic materials. And naturally, with more plastic products comes more waste too. The result is that the world population now throws away more than 260 million tonnes of plastic waste every year.

Looking at our oceans as an example, we clearly see where the problem is heading. Every year, 8 million tonnes of plastic waste end up in our oceans. And if nothing changes, we will have more plastic than fish swimming around in 2050. Not a responsible future we are setting up for the fish schools.

The plastic waste itself is a problem – but the handling of it is even more problematic. It is only possible to recycle a small portion, and the remaining thousands of tonnes are left to us and our planet to handle. In 2016, only 16% of all plastic waste was recycled, and the rest ended up in incineration plants, landfills or nature – and the resources were then lost forever.

The plastic waste that is thrown in nature, or somehow just ends up there, is a major problem. And the reason is simple: It never goes away. If left in nature, it takes hundreds of years for the plastic waste to degrade into tiny pieces of micro-plastic – that never truly disappear. Instead, they will keep polluting our forest floors, rivers and oceans.

The troublesome mechanical recycling of plastic waste

Most people agree that we should recycle our plastic waste to the extent this is possible But for various reasons, that only happens with a small portion of our plastic materials today. In 2016, only 16% of the global plastic waste was sent to recycling.

One of the main reasons why the world recycles so little of the plastic waste is the composition of the products. Simply put, many of the materials are too complex to recycle. For example, items like remote controls, plastic bottles and toothbrushes are all made of many different types of plastic, and in order to recycle the products, you need to separate these types. That is a very resource-demanding process that oftentimes takes too much money and harmful emissions to go through.

Another reason is the limited scope for mechanical recycling – the typical way of recycling plastic waste – where the material is cut into small pieces, before it is turned into new plastic products. Typically, plastic items can only be mechanically recycled 2-3 times at most. After that, it is simply not possible to put the material through the process again, and it is then left as waste.

Thermal recycling can reduce the environmental burden

With the limitations of traditional mechanical recycling, much of the world’s plastic waste ends up in incineration plants, landfills or, even worse, nature. When only 16% of the materials are recycled, that leaves the remaining 84% of the materials to us and our planet to handle. But the Plastcon solution can help the world bring that number down substantially.

With Plastcon and its thermal recycling – more specifically the pyrolysis process – it is possible to recycle all types of plastic materials without any pretreatment. There is no need to clean the materials or separate the different plastic types, because Plastcon handles it all. And as an extra bonus, the system can recycle plastic waste as many times as we want it to.

However, whenever it is possible to recycle plastic waste mechanically, this should always be prioritised since it generates less CO2 than thermal recycling. But with Plastcon, it is possible to make up for the limitations of mechanical recycling and continue where it cannot. In other words, when the plastic waste materials are too complex, and when the mechanical recycling rate has reached the maximum limit of 2-3 times – then Plastcon can take over. Instead of leaving the harmful plastic as waste, Plastcon converts it into useful resources.