Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Waste Management in the era of plastic

In the history of mankind, it has passed through different ages. The prehistoric ones began with the Stone Age, then they moved to the Iron, the Bronze, and the Copper, and we are currently in the plastic. Unlike the other ages, plastic is a 100% man created, which means that it is not found in the natural environment, unlike stone or iron, for example. This fact adds complexity, especially at the end of the useful life of the product we have created. Plastic is not harmless to nature and puts some species at risk, especially marine ones.

For the convenience of consumers, a series of guidelines have been acquired in the production of certain objects that make them unviable if they are not produced with plastic, because it is obvious that this material provides advantages, such as lightness, strength, malleability, durability, etc. There are many benefits of plastic, but, just a moment ... there are also many risks caused by improper use. It is used so much that legislative initiatives have already been approved to ban according to what applications of this material. In 2021, for example, plastic will be prohibited on single-use objects, such as ear sticks. This has been agreed by the European Chamber to reduce plastic pollution in the oceans, a measure that was approved by an overwhelming majority of 571 votes in favor, 53 against and 34 abstentions. Now it remains to be agreed between the ministers of the different member states how they get this ban. It will undoubtedly be a tough negotiation since the Council, Parliament, and Commission must agree, and it is expected to take place in May 2019. All this is promoted by the success of the ban on the sale of single-use bags of plastic in stores, as, no doubt, It is estimated that currently, 70% of marine waste corresponds to plastics. On the part of the European Commission, in addition to the ban on single-use plastics, member states have been urged to adopt a series of measures, such as designing national plans to encourage the use of products that can be recycled or reused, or that separately collect bottles for beverages, whose percentage of recycling must be 90% in 2025. Without a doubt, they are important challenges that directly affect changes in the model of the consumer society.

As recuperators, we believe that the fact that Europe imposes these measures is positive because currently the material is not reaching us and the plastic that comes to us is of very low quality. By having a container collection system, all plastic containers go in the same container. Some citizens, who are not well aware or who simply have mistaken beliefs for misleading communication campaigns, do not deposit waste in the correct containers. Consequently, waste that is well deposited is contaminated by other waste that has nothing to do with it. If a container that a priority can have a value as a material to re-make a container has another substance deposited inside, such as cigarette butts or organic remains, its recycling is complex. We also find that there are packages that to make them more salable to the consumer add a layer of another type of plastic called slide. This means that for the technology of reading by optical systems, to separate the different types of plastics, of error and this container ends up being lost. Then we find the problem of multilayer, plastic containers that at first may seem to have only one material, but which are a composite of different materials, such as refrigerated pizza containers. By containing more than one type of plastic, its separation is so expensive that it makes its recovery infeasible. The problem with plastics is that not all melt at the same temperature and there may even be additives in the same plastic that the producers use, either to give color, smell or texture, which can make a type of plastic not recyclable.

From the Gremi de Recuperació de Catalunya, we believe that for the circular economy to take place and modify behaviors, it is necessary that a section on what happens when the useful life of the product we have produced ends is included in all regulated studies, because only then can we do a real eco-design, producing with materials that, a priori, may seem more expensive but in the long run they assure us of a future. The plastic itself is not bad, the problem is that it is used indiscriminately without thinking about what will happen to it once it has finished its useful life and that it is abused. If the plastics we produce are recyclable and through fiscal measures, we encourage that all products contain a minimum of recycling, we can certainly continue to grow without detracting from nature.

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