Do Recycling Technologies Help Improve Plastics' Sustainability?

Rachel Smith, Applied Technology Review | Wednesday, March 03, 2021

Rachel Smith, Applied Technology Review

The recycling and reuse of plastics to manufacture new goods prevent plastic waste out of the atmosphere and have sustainability benefits.

FREMONT, CA: Today, scientists and innovators are working to solve even more significant problems, such as eliminating waste and emissions. One of the most promising ways to achieve this is to extend the use of advanced recycling technology. So, what exactly does that mean, and how does it work to boost sustainability?

The recycling method is called conventional, or mechanical, recycling; it involves gathering, rinsing, heating, and reforming plastics into tiny pellets used to produce new items. Traditional recycling works best with things that one puts into the home recycling bins, such as plastic bottles of water and milk jugs. It is the most common method of municipal recycling.

In recent years, advances in plastic packaging (like soup pouches, tuna, deli meats, and trail mixtures) have helped keep people's food fresher longer. This new and updated packaging reduces food spoilage and waste, improves shelf life, and makes shipping goods more effective because they are smaller and take up less space.

However, conventional recycling does not work on certain forms of plastic packaging. Thus, creative firms have developed sophisticated recycling methods that make it possible to recycle these hard-to-recycle plastics. These emerging technologies break down plastics into their original components so that they can be used to produce new products. This aspect helps society to recycle and replace higher volumes of more varieties of plastics.

The recycling and reuse of plastics to manufacture new goods prevent plastic waste out of the atmosphere and have sustainability benefits. One organization commissioned a pyrolysis study, an advanced recycling technique that breaks down plastics using heat. The study showed that this form of advanced recycling resulted in half of the greenhouse gas emissions as waste-to-energy, another tool for treating plastic waste.

Advanced recycling is also a cost-effective method of collecting and reusing plastics, helping to keep them out of the landfill and creating a range of new materials, including plastics of the same consistency as virgin plastics. This is a win for all.

Moving forward, current investments to extend and scale advanced recycling technology will boost sustainability efforts and play a key role in building a more circular plastics economy. Over the last three years, the private sector has announced more than 5 billion dollars in spending on both modernized mechanical and advanced recycling technology. By continuing to develop the conventional recycling system and expanding advanced recycling around the world, businesses are building a more sustainable environment and getting closer to achieving the industry's target of reusing, recycling, or restoring 100 percent of used plastic packaging in the U.S. by 2040.

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