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Plastics, if reused and recycled well, are here to serve us in a good way

Vimal Kedia
5th Jun 2017
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Instead of saying no to plastics, let us look at ways of reducing our plastic footprint by evaluating how we use, reuse, and recycle plastics.

Plastic is a ubiquitous and an indispensable part of our daily lives. It plays a large role in our economic development. From industries that are heavily dependent on plastics to our daily encounters with plastic packaged products— the usefulness of plastic has made it one of the most sustainable raw materials of the modern age. Per capita consumption of plastics in India stands at about 10 kg today.

While India is among the top 10 global consumers of plastic, awareness of its recyclable benefits remains relatively low. The increasing use of this versatile material generates more than 15,000 tonnes of plastic waste every day, out of which 6,000 tonnes remain littered, according to the Ministry of Environment. Recycling plastics is by far the most ideal solution offering short-term and long-term benefits to the environment and creating a sustainable future for generations to come. Recycled plastics have as much to offer to society in its reused applications as it does in its original form.

As the environmentalists work tirelessly to implement a plastic waste management system to reduce the detrimental impact of discarded plastic, the onus also lies on each and every consumer to responsibly use and dispose plastics. The Ministry of Environment, along with the Central Pollution Control Board, has also declared a roadmap “that make manufacturers responsible for collecting waste generated from their products.” The good news is that India has the highest recycling rate for plastics, at 70 percent, compared to the world average of 22 percent. All is not lost.

Benefits of plastics recycling

Are all plastics recyclable? 80-90 percent of all plastics produced can be recycled. A symbol with a triangle of ‘chasing arrows’ found on plastic products indicates whether they can be recycled or not. The triangle bears numbers from 1 to 7, depending on the type of plastic and indicates its recycling potential.

For decades, Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET) has been the most widely used polymer, with its common applications in drinking water bottles and food containers. Today, it has found popularity and demand across a variety of sectors and products. Preferred for its light weight, flexibility, durability, and comparative cost effectiveness, it is one of the most economically viable plastics, with the annual consumption growth rate surpassing 20 percent.

Recycled PET and HDPE/LDPE can be processed into a wide range of products like clothing, sleeping bag fills, CD cases, car parts, toys, stuffed animals, stationary and more. It is interesting to note that one recycled plastic bottle can save enough energy to power a light bulb for three hours. Recycling plastics has the potential to save twice as much energy when compared to burning it in an incinerator.

In recent years, recycled plastic has found its way into stupendous art forms. A canopy installed in Nebraska was made with over 1,500 recycled plastic soda bottles. The bottles were filled with star-shaped colorful highlights, creating an aesthetically appealing pattern.

Process of plastics recycling

Recycling plastics is easier than one would imagine. Innovations in recycling technology have brought to the fore increased awareness on the need for sustainable consumption and responsible disposal of plastics. Once plastic products are collected and entered into the waste management stream, they undergo the process of sorting, cleaning, crushing, melting to remove incompatible polymers and creating flakes that can be processed into various products.

Recycling to create a sustainable future

With its increasing applications, the use of plastics is seeing an upward trend. Plastic packaging is a valuable resource and should be recycled as much as possible, whenever possible. As we set out to make fresh resolutions this World Environment Day, instead of saying no to plastics, let us look at ways of reducing our plastic footprint by evaluating how we use, reuse, and recycle plastics.

Start today and save tomorrow.

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