Shortcomings of traditional waste management practices
The common disposal options for plastics are to mechanically recycle the plastic, chemically recycle the plastic, compost the biobased plastic, burn the plastic to generate energy, or bury the plastic in a landfill 1.
Worldwide, a good management of waste and resources demands recycling, diversion from landfill of untreated wastes and greater levels of resource conservation - with a view to sustainable development, the prevention and recovery of waste.
Non-biodegradable plastic waste
“More than one third of the total plastic production in Europe—about 14 million tons per year—are polyolefins, also known as polyalkenes. This is a family of polymers used for the manufacture of a variety of products, mainly bottles for water and soft drinks, and food packaging. The problem with polyolefins is that the material is not biodegradable, and can only be recycled into new plastics product when the waste is available in pure form.” 2
Different kinds of plastic need sorting and cleaning. As rather dirty waste plastic is almost impossible to use, sorting requires a lot of effort and use of water, which in turn causes water pollution. Furthermore, sorting the plastic waste into different types has been a complicated and expensive process, human cost is larger whereas economic and social benefits are poor 3.
End of life plastics
“End of life plastic (“ELP”) consists of plastics that cannot be easily or economically recycled. ELP is often landfilled, incinerated, exported at cost or dumped illegally. As a result, plastic pollution is choking the planet. Huge plastic gyres now exist in every ocean, poisoning the food chain and creating serious risk to human and ecosystem health.” 4
Landfill of plastic waste
Landfill plastic garbage, as it is known, this method is simple, but it brings neither economic nor social benefits, and will cause serious pollution on the land.
Landfill is the conventional approach to waste management, but space for landfills is becoming scarce in some countries. A well-managed landfill site results in limited immediate environmental harm beyond the impacts of collection and transport, although there are long-term risks of contamination of soils and groundwater by some additives and breakdown by-products in plastics, which can become persistent organic pollutants 5.
Landfill of waste plastics becomes the least favored option in the global waste hierarchy as suitable sites for landfill across Europe are running out and public concerns are increasing about the impact of landfill on the environment and health from the amount of toxic materials in land-filled municipal waste and their potential leaching out of landfill sites 6.