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Bold Businesses Are Taking Recycling to the Next Level

bottles and cups showing the plastic crisis solution

Throughout the world, there’s an impending crisis as it relates to waste management. Though many countries have heavily invested in recycling efforts and programs, there remains one substance that poses serious challenges. That substance would be plastics. Some plastics are indeed recyclable and can be reused. But existing plastics recycling technologies have not been able to keep pace with the incredible volumes of plastics discarded. Without a doubt, a plastic crisis solution is needed if progress is to be made. Such solutions not only require harvesting existing plastics for recycling and reprocessing. But more importantly, they require new methods that can operate at scale. As it turns out, this is where some bold businesses are making promising strides.

plastic crisis solution needed for beach
A plastic crisis solution could mean cleaner beaches… and a cleaner world!

(Super polymers might solve the plastics riddle–read more in this Bold story.)

Supported by some major corporations, a handful of companies are suggesting they have identified a viable plastics solution. Using new plastic recycling technologies, they are developing plants capable of handling millions of tons of plastics. But these efforts have not been without their own set of troubles. Many setbacks have occurred, and some of these companies have been forced to close recycling plants. Despite this, some of the largest users of plastics believe these new approaches will make a tremendous difference. Whether these perspectives are wishful thinking or a soon-to-be reality remains to be seen. In either case, the next few years will prove to be enlightening as the world must face its growing plastics crisis.

“The industry is trying to say they have a [plastics] solution. It’s a non-solution.” – Terrence J. Collins, Professor of Chemistry and Sustainability Science, Carnegie Mellon University

The Global Plastics Problem

Over the last many decades, the plastics waste problem has been mounting. A rising number of products use plastics that range from food consumer goods to automobile bumpers. In many instances, plastic products are labelled as being recyclable. However, these vary in their capacity to be reused, and some are simply not worth the effort. As a result, less than 10% of all plastics actually get recycled. The rest end up in landfills despite conscientious efforts to avoid such outcomes. This is why new plastic recycling technologies and an innovative plastic crisis solution would be welcomed. The current systems in place simply don’t offer realistic approaches to this global problem.

In the U.S. alone, Americans generate 36 million tons of plastic waste each year. While the U.S. leads all nations in this regard, plastic waste from other countries is significant as well. Even worse, analysts predict that the number of plastics being used will increase fourfold by 2050. Since such a small percentage of plastic waste currently gets reprocessed, it’s clear that such a production increase is unsustainable. This is why scientists and researchers have been investigating different plastic recycling technologies. And some appear to offer a potential plastic crisis solution if they can be developed to scale. This remains a big “if” based on current progress in the field.

some pretty dirty water in need of cleaning
The business that helps clean the world would be bold indeed.

“[Chemical recycling] is just one of the many steps we are taking on our journey to ensure our packaging doesn’t end up as waste.” – Company statement, Nestle

Bold Businesses in Plastics Recycling

While there is an obvious need for a plastic crisis solution, there’s only a handful of companies pursuing new approaches. In this regard, new plastic recycling technologies appear to be moving in a different direction. Previous recycling models essentially grind plastic into small pieces and melt them. This has limited utility in terms of reprocessing, and it’s why a significant amount of plastic isn’t reused. But new strategies involve chemical recycling where plastics are broken down to a molecular level, which has the potential to allow a much broader reuse opportunity for a variety of plastics. This includes polypropylene, which is difficult to recycle but utilized in a significant number of products. This is one of the new plastic recycling technologies that is being tested currently.

The company receiving the most press utilizing these new plastic recycling technologies is PureCycle Technologies. The company licensed the chemical recycling process that was actually developed by researchers at Proctor and Gamble. Interestingly, P&G represents perhaps the largest user of plastics, which is why they have been investing in this research for years. PureCycle has already begun advancing this potential plastic crisis solution in a plant located in Ironton, Ohio. Though the plant has yet to realize such a potential, advocates believe this to be a viable approach. Such advocates not only include P&G but also major corporations like Nestle and L’Oreal. They too are looking for a plastic crisis solution since they have committed to being fully recyclable by 2025. Unless such new plastic recycling technologies are pursued, achieving these goals will be difficult.

“We believe in this technology. We’ve seen it work.” – Dustin Olsen, CEO of PureCycle Technologies

Overcoming Roadblocks for a Bold Future

plastic recycling technologies needed for polluted water
Advances in plastic recycling technologies could be good news for Earth and the humans who live upon it.

While these new plastic recycling technologies are exciting and hopeful, companies have faced some hardships thus far. In terms of PureCycle, the company has been dealing not only with some technical issues but shareholder ones as well. Existing shareholders who stand to benefit from a lower share price have been antagonistic. They have alleged that the company has made false claims about its technology’s abilities. As such, several lawsuits are now pending. This combined with inherent challenges dealing with the solvent used contribute to slow progress. As a result, some question whether scaling these approaches will be feasible as a plastic crisis solution.

Despite these difficulties, major corporations are standing by PureCycle and its chemical plastic recycling process. These companies naturally have a vested interest in seeing companies like PureCycle thrive. If these plastic recycling technologies turn out to be effective, a true circular economy involving plastics could evolve. But if not, other ideas for a plastic crisis solution will need to be devised. For now, however, these are the bold businesses striving to find ways to realize plastic sustainability. And many truly hope they succeed before drastic steps to curb plastics production are necessary.

 

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