Like it or not, plastic has become an integral part of society and it is often difficult to replace it. As a material, it is unmatched for its low cost, durability and ability to be molded into various shapes. That’s why it is present everywhere.
Right to Repair and the fight against planned obsolescence
According to the Plastics Industry Association (Plastics), plastics are used in 42% of packaging, 20% of construction materials, 13% of the automotive industry and 12% of consumer products.
In total, plastics are used in more than 50,000 different products. Apart from this, it is also used as a raw material in textile, paper and printing industries. are mostly plastic built strong and durableAnd that is the problem.
Although they eventually decompose due to ultraviolet light, heat, and other environmental factors, this process can take hundreds or thousands of years, during which time they contaminate the air, water, and soil.
These plastics are known as “Persistent” or “Semi-Permanent” PlasticsThese include polyethylene terephthalate (PET), high-density polyethylene (HDPE), and polyvinyl chloride (PVC).
Most plastics are obtained by a process called polymerization from oil and natural gas, which are finite resources. Plastic is too valuable a material to throw in a landfill.
However, 12% of the plastic produced is incinerated, releasing carbon into the atmosphere. According to World Bank data, only 9% plastic The world was recycled in 2018.
In Spain, in spite of everything, the selective collection of containers has increased to 51.5% (yellow containers). But these are figures from the official archive. A report submitted to the European Commission stated that the 50% recycling objective was not reached in 2020, standing at 35%.
it means that Two thirds of plastic in Spain ends up in landfill or cremated. The new law on waste and contaminated soil, which was approved last March, has not yet shown positive results in its application.
Which plastics can be recycled?
The problem of recycling is essentially economic and technical. The process of mechanical recycling of plastics usually follows these steps:
- Classification by type and color.
- Washing and drying to remove impurities such as label paper, dirt or paint.
- Casting and extrusion in the form of small pellets or granules.
- Manufacturing of new products from plastic pellets or granules.
The first drawback is that it is difficult to identify the composition of the plastic. That is why in 1988 the RIC code (abbreviation for resin identification code), which is currently valid practically all over the world. The code appears as a number inside a triangular symbol. These codes are available for each type of plastic:
- 1 polyethylene terephthalate (PET or PETE): Commonly used for water and soft drink bottles. It can be recycled to make new bottles or to make fiberfill for jackets and sleeping bags.
- 2 high density polyethylene (HDPE): Used for milk bottles, detergent bottles, and shopping bags. It can be recycled to make plastic for construction or garbage cans.
- 3 Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC): Used for pipes and linings. It can be recycled into flooring, window frames and decks.
- 4 Low Density Polyethylene (LDPE): Used for bags and plastic film. It can be recycled to make bags and garbage cans.
- 5 polypropylene (PP): Used for food packaging, car parts, and electrical cables. It can be recycled to make brooms, brushes and car battery cases.
- 6 polystyrene (PS): Used for disposable cups and packaging materials. It can be recycled to make plastic cutlery, license plate frames and rulers.
- 7 Other plastics.
it is important to pay attention to In practice not all plastics can be recycledAnd even those that can be recycled are not always recycled because of the cost and lack of demand for recycled plastics.
Contaminants that cannot be removed in the recycling process can reduce the quality of recycled materials. For example, it prevents the use of recycled plastics, which tend to be more fragile, in the automotive industry for safety reasons.
PET is one of the easiest to recycle, and can even be made at home to be reused as a material in 3D printers. It is also easy to recycle HDPE from milk and detergent bottles.
in theory PVC can be recycled 6 to 8 times before the breakdown of the polymer molecules. In practice, it is the least recyclable of all plastics. This is because PVC items contain so many additives that recycling them would be impractical and expensive, and these additives (phthalates, lead, cadmium, etc.) are toxic.
That’s why you can’t throw the PCV pipes in the yellow container, you have to take them to a clean point. On the other hand, the polystyrene foam (PS), which is the white cork of some containers and packaging materials, and can be placed in the yellow bin for recycling.
In Spain, the collection of this plastic increased by 24% in 2019. However, due to its brittleness when the material becomes tarnished it can make recycling almost impossible.
polypropylene (PP) plastic trays and containers can also be recycled in principle, but again, the polymer loses its strength and flexibility with frequent recycling processes, making the process uneconomical in many cases.
Section 7 devoted to other plastics features items such as CDs, plastic toys or methacrylate furniture, which are often combined with other materials and are extremely difficult to recycle, so should never be put in a recycling bin.
The problem of plastic wrapping vegetables
The worst case scenario is LDPE, the plastic used for the plastic wrap that wraps so many products in supermarkets. According to a recent report, this plastic represents 48% of all packaging in Spain, but only 3% is recycled: the plastic used to wrap industrial pallets.
One that has been in contact with food cannot be recycled for the same use for sanitary reasons. The solution is to wrap the food in another plastic that is compostable And it can be thrown into a landfill to be disposed of, but it hasn’t come yet.
The same report cited above denounces that the official figures for total recycling of plastics in Spain are inaccurate, and puts the actual recycling percentage of all plastics at 15%. Another Greenpeace report too Reduces the actual recycling rate by up to 25%,
There is nothing we can do when our vegetables come in PS trays and are wrapped with LDPE film, except depositing these containers in the recycling bin. However, we can limit our consumption of these single-use plastics.
The first step is to avoid using plastic wrap in the home and replace it with reusable containers. Other obvious solutions are to avoid using plastic bags and to buy fruits and vegetables in bulk whenever possible.
Avoid plastic cups, cutlery and straws as well as other single-use plastic products such as razors or cleaning sticks. bottled waterDespite using easily recyclable plastics, plastic is the major contributor to pollution, as these packages often end up in landfills or in the environment.
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