Rhetoric Meets Actuality in Plastic Waste Targets

May 23, 2023

Rhetoric Meets Actuality in Plastic Waste Targets


If good intentions had been sufficient, we might haven’t any drawback with plastics. There isn’t any scarcity of ambition, targets, and commitments to stem the tide of waste plastics and ensuing air pollution.

Final August, Canada grew to become the newest nation to enroll to the High Ambition Coalition to End Plastic Pollution. Aiming to handle plastic air pollution, which, with out motion, is about to double by 2060, the coalition commits signatories to establishing “an formidable and efficient worldwide legally binding instrument… to finish plastic air pollution by 2040.”

Already, there’s been vital motion on the nationwide stage. Within the US, Maine, Oregon, Colorado, and California have all dedicated to chopping plastic waste by means of prolonged producer duty (EPR) legal guidelines, making plastics packaging producers accountable for funding their clean-up, primarily by means of recycling. New York is at the moment considering similar regulations, too.

A number of European legal guidelines are additionally already in place, together with the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive, which requires EPR of all Member States. The European Union is essentially the most aggressive in terms of addressing waste with new rules repeatedly coming into pressure. In January, for instance, Italy enacted Europe’s first EPR regulation for compostable packaging, which sees it collected alongside meals scraps.

Decreasing plastic waste: huge ambitions, little progress.


It’s one factor to have lofty ambitions to cut back plastic waste. It’s one other to realize them. The need is there; it’s not but clear we’ve discovered a approach. California, as an illustration, has lengthy sought to cut back plastics use and waste, beginning with a ban on single-use grocery luggage in 2014.

In 2022, it enacted Senate Invoice 54 to begin phasing out all sorts of single-use plastic in 2025. But in 2021 its general recycling fee was only 40% – down from the earlier yr. Of this 40%, roughly 11.8% is recycled plastics, nonetheless thought of considerably under what is required for true circularity. In the UK, the place EPR reporting necessities got here into pressure at the end of February, surveys counsel companies are unprepared. Throughout Europe, regardless of some progress, there’s additionally a big lack of alignment within the element of rules and the way they’re carried out.

In a way, that’s unsurprising. We’re at an early stage, however regulation would do properly to remember sure realities.




First, it’s clear that the necessity for plastics will stay throughout a variety of industries for the foreseeable future. They could be diminished, however they won’t be eradicated. For meals and drinks, they each defend and protect in a approach not at the moment replicable by different supplies.

They cease perishables like milk from degrading on account of ultraviolet gentle, for instance, whereas versatile plastics preserve meals’s integrity and infrequently vitamin because it travels throughout international provide chains.

In reality, such plastics play an vital position in defending the setting by massively lowering meals spoilage and increasing shelf life to cut back carbon footprints and meals waste. They’re additionally lighter weight than alternate options (lowering packaging mass and greenhouse gasoline emissions in transport). For a similar cause, the rising adoption of electrical automobiles — essential to satisfy environmental objectives — is more likely to imply elevated demand for plastics, provided that plastics are sometimes most popular over metallic for such automobiles to maintain weight (and the required energy) down.

Likewise, prescription drugs and biopharmaceuticals require plastic movies, inflexible caps, and covers to maintain medical gadgets and medicines sanitary and protected for affected person use. For a variety of much less apparent items — whether or not electronics, equipment, or gear — plastic packaging prevents injury throughout transport and supply.

New packaging supplies could properly emerge, however it’s going to take time for gear to adapt, new suppliers to be discovered, and new supplies examined to make sure they may defend and protect finish merchandise. We now have realized too typically previously {that a} rush to undertake various options (such because the shift from incandescent to mercury containing compact fluorescent lights) can create issues of its personal.

We have to settle for that change takes time.


Decreasing plastic waste is a blended bag of challenges and options.


An apparent consequence is that recycling will play a significant position if targets are to be met. Decreasing demand for plastics won’t do it alone. Right here once more, although, there’s vital work to be performed. Each public schooling and recycling infrastructure will have to be developed, however technical obstacles should even be overcome.

The issue is that, even the place plastics are recycled, solely a small minority are efficiently repurposed, in accordance with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. That’s as a result of rules prohibit the recycled plastic content material used for packaging (equivalent to meals, medicines and so forth) or demand sterilization or decontamination. Consequently, the vast majority of makes use of for packaging require new, virgin plastic created from non-renewable sources or superior chemical recycling that may produce virgin-like plastic.

Crucially, conventional mechanical recycling recycles lower than 10% of plastic waste, and since plastic properties degrade within the course of, the fabric is usually downcycled. Many supplies are merely not appropriate for mechanical recycling infrastructures, with assortment, sorting, and processing capabilities which might be unable to adequately separate various kinds of plastic waste.

Chemical processes — superior recycling that breaks plastics right down to the molecular stage — produce higher high quality materials, work properly for drink bottles manufactured from PET, however has not been used extensively for decrease high quality blended wastes.

Once more, it’s early days, and developments in know-how will assist partially overcome such challenges in time. Digital watermark technology being rolled out in France, for instance, might considerably enhance the efficacy and effectivity of sorting various kinds of packaging.

However even there, it’s solely on the pilot stage, and never all international locations have the recycling infrastructure to deal with such subtle packaging even when it is theoretically recyclable.

Simply as we stay reliant on plastics for the foreseeable future, we should proceed coping with blended plastic waste.


Working with the fact of plastics, packaging, and recycling.


That is the problem that Honeywell’s UpCycle Process Technology addresses. Enhancing a confirmed superior recycling plant design working at business scale in Europe within the Nineteen Nineties, it’s an answer that dramatically expands the kinds of plastics that may be transformed into recycled polymer feedstock (RPF) to supply virgin-quality plastic.

In doing so, it really works throughout the constraints and limitations of nations’ infrastructure, lowering the necessity for blended waste sorting by dealing with blended supplies. It additionally meets the fact of constant demand for virgin high quality plastic by utilizing molecular conversion, pyrolysis, and contaminants administration know-how to transform waste plastic again to Honeywell RPF that can be utilized to create a number of kinds of plastic.

On the similar time, by utilizing a wider vary of waste, together with coloured and versatile plastics, multilayer packaging, and polystyrene, it minimizes the usage of crude oil in plastics manufacturing and the quantity of plastic waste going to landfill or incineration.

When used along with different chemical and mechanical recycling processes — together with enhancements to assortment and sorting — Honeywell’s UpCycle Course of Know-how has the potential to assist recycle almost 90% of waste plastics. This is able to signify a substantial improve within the quantity of waste plastics that may be was polymer feedstock.

In different phrases, in terms of chopping plastic waste a lot nearer collectively, it might convey our actuality and rhetoric collectively.

See additionally Complimentary Recycling Strengthens Circular Plastics Economy, revealed February 2022.

Kevin Quast, International Head of Honeywell Plastics Circularity Enterprise, is accountable for creating and executing the enterprise and commercialization technique to develop the Plastics Circularity enterprise leveraging product know-how, business partnerships, and alternate enterprise fashions.

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