SR article

The governance of change towards a closed plastic cycle

How to tackle 5 challenges to secure a sustainable future

- Take out all the contamination due to: additives, non-polymer impurities and degradation.
- Monitor of plastics contamination across the different stages and by the contribution from the players across the plastics value chain
- Make all the appropriate considerations when designing their products and packaging with a view to later recovery.
-Establish partnerships to increase recycling education, and access to more recycling bins in public areas
-Implement technical assistance to communities to increase recycling and standardized education

Clean plastics

The contamination in plastic collection strongly influences the quality of the recycled material. Taking out the contamination in plastic collection is necessary for developing the recycling loop up to next level.

Firstly, in the collection phase, we need to ensure the collection to be as single-typed as possible. Organized plastic collection results in high quality recyclable plastics. The challenge is about kerbside collection, where it is not easy to control the pureness. So it is important to educate people to follow garbage classification and develop pick-up service on a larger scale to improve the pureness of collection.

Secondly, after collection, we need proper method to divide it. In this process, we can divide different types of plastic and, in the meantime, remove contamination that is material other than plastic. There are several method that can be used to divide garbage including gravity separation, electromagnetic separation, inertial separation and friction sorting. By combining different methods, depending on the product requirement, we can get the pureness we need.

Thirdly, after sorting plastics, they'll have to be cleaned. Machinery used currently have the problem that it takes water, which would also cause pollution. However, innovative technology like ‘dry-cleaning’, which cleans surfaces through friction without using water, can solve this problem.

Monitor plastics

The monitoring of plastic waste and research into its impacts are still in their infancy. Plastic waste has the additional complication of spanning many policy areas, such as marine management, coastal management, waste management and the regulation of chemicals. This is an obstacle which makes the need to harmonize efforts and coordinate between different policy areas difficult to achieve. Besides, this harmonization has to be done to all the different research methods and consequently to their different types of data.

This requires monitoring and therefore the development of indicators of good environmental status. The MFSD has outlined 11 descriptors of environmental status depending its source of plastic waste. However, it should be remembered that the distinction between land-based and sea-based sources is irrelevant for prevention, as all plastic is produced on land. Even though there are several methods to monitor plastic waste in the marine environment, including beach surveys, surveys at sea and monitoring species affected by plastic waste.

This challenge is compared to all the others the most difficult to overcome: the coordination between all the parties throughout the different stage as well as developing standard methods and parameter is needed. Therefore, our initiatives are going to focus on the other more feasible challenges.

Afbeeldingsresultaat voor plastic recycling

Partnerships

As with all big changes, partnering up of companies is necessary to reach the final goal of a closed circle. If one company is educating people to recycle plastic and sort it to color and type, there should be another company supplying the containers and locations for this. If one company wants to use recycled plastics in the production of their designs, there should be another company sorting and cleaning these plastics. Through working together, knowledge is shared, work is divided and prices go down. An example of a good partnership is the pickup service Mariahoeve. As mentioned before, they pickup household waste, preferably sorted. They partnered up with 'Mariahoeve Works', that supplies drivers for whom it's hard to find a job, that do this voluntarily. An example of a partnership that makes it possible to recycle for a low cost. 

Technical assistance

A challenge for many companies is the lack of knowledge on how to recycle. Because often times it is not clear where plastics are going after throwing them out, the value of recycling is diminished. Several initiatives are taking up this challenge and going around, advising and informing companies, industries and people on the process of recycling, the value of it and above all: the necessity. Assisting companies in implementing recycling systems in their workarea is a key part of improving the quality of recycled plastics. A good example of a company that promotes high-quality recycling of plastic is Wildenberg Recycling B.V. They've organized a contest in which companies can win an award for sorting the plastic waste such that it can immediately be re-implemented in the production and fabrication system, without, besides cleaning and granulating, having to do much more sorting in the factory. A new technology is taken up by an ever-expanding circle of users who adjust their actions to the meanings that are bestowed upon them by the new technology (Tracing discursive space: Agency and change in sustainability transitions, 2012). This shows that technical assistance is a vital part of the process. 

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