09 December 2011 16:16 [Source: ICB]
The Gulf Petrochemicals & Chemicals Association (GPCA) Plastics Committee has recently produced several position statements, one on polymer recycling, under the banner "Re-use, recycle recover", and one on the issue of plastics litter. The first also contains a note on the use of oxy-additives for enhancing plastics' degradability.
In the quantities used today (and projected into the future), says the Plastics Committee, plastics can only feasibly come from fossil fuel feedstocks (oil, gas, coal) which are finite resources. Therefore it is logical that plastic is a valuable resource, which must be used wisely.
The most environmentally friendly and cost-effective method of extracting the highest value from plastic is to re-use the item, as many times as possible. The durability, flexibility and long life of plastics ensures that this is managed easily and, of course, no extra work or use of any extra energy is required for collection or reprocessing.
When an item can no longer be re-used, the value of plastic can be maintained by recycling. This usually requires energy to grind, re-melt and re-shape into a new item, which should then be re-used as often as possible, as stated earlier.
When re-use and recycling are no longer feasible for an item, the energy value inherent in the plastic, by virtue of its fossil fuel origin, should be recovered through incineration in a plant capable of capturing the energy and turning it into electricity, steam or hot water (for domestic or industrial use).
It is now possible to add chemicals to several types of plastic to make them oxy-degrade (not bio-degrade) over time. The differentiation between the two terms is important, says the Committee, as there is much debate in countries with a longer history on this issue. The debate includes the exclusion of oxy-degradable products from composting processes (where biopolymers and biodegradable products turn into a compost biomass that can be returned to agricultural use) and serious questions around the inclusion of oxy-degradable plastics in the recycle stream.
The GPCA is not in a position to verify the science, but says it indicates that the concept of oxy-degradation needs more investigation before it is firmly endorsed.
In the meantime, it believes that the addition of these chemicals to plastics articles should be avoided until that debate is concluded, as they encourage articles to be casually discarded instead of being reused or recycled.
In order to preserve resources, while continuing to improve standards of living, GPCA is keen to help authorities in the Gulf and all players in the value chain, in sharing waste management and public education practices.
LITTERING AND PLASTIC BAGS
Even though plastic bags represent a small fraction of littered waste, their use has become a highly publicized issue, which now affects the image of the entire plastics industry.
In truth, lightweight plastic bag litter is a major concern in countries where littering is an endemic problem. When provided free of charge, they are considered valueless and are often casually discarded and easily carried by the wind. They then present a real risk for land and marine wildlife or can cause blockages in drainage and sewage systems.
Consumers and the general public should be encouraged to re-use plastic bags. Thicker and stronger bags encourage re-use. Besides imposing a tax on plastic bags, there are other systems or programs that can promote the re-use of plastic bags. For example: incentives on multiple re-use shopping bags for shoppers.
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