The Challenges of Recycling: From Microplastics to PLA

Alfred Tang

Alfred Tang

Sep 10, 20233 min read

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The Challenges of Recycling: From Microplastics to PLA

Introduction:

Recycling has long been touted as an essential solution to combat the environmental impact of plastic waste. However, recent developments have shed light on the unique challenges that recycling processes face. From the spewing of microplastics to the restrictions placed on certain types of plastics, it is evident that recycling is not a foolproof solution. In this article, we will explore the problems associated with recycling and delve into the specific case of polylactic acid (PLA), a supposedly biodegradable plastic that faces restrictions in certain places.

The Spewing of Microplastics:

One of the most alarming issues with recycling is the spewing of microplastics. Even when plastic makes it to a recycling center, it can still end up splintering into smaller bits, resulting in the release of microplastics into the environment. Studies have shown that a single recycling facility could emit up to 6.5 million pounds of microplastic per year. These tiny particles, measuring less than 1.6 microns, can easily escape filtration systems and find their way into water bodies and the air we breathe.

Furthermore, the researchers discovered high levels of airborne microplastics inside the recycling facility itself, putting workers at risk of inhaling these harmful particles. This revelation highlights the unintended consequences of recycling and the potential health risks associated with the process. It becomes clear that recycling is not just a straightforward transformation of plastic waste into new products; it involves deconstructing and reconstructing the materials, which can result in the production of microplastics.

The Challenges of PLA Recycling:

The case of polylactic acid (PLA) provides a unique perspective on the complexities of recycling. PLA is often touted as a more environmentally friendly alternative to traditional plastics due to its biodegradable nature. However, recent regulations have banned the use of PLA in certain places, treating it as if it were traditional plastic. This decision has led to the improper disposal of PLA, rendering it no different from non-biodegradable plastics.

The reason behind this restriction lies in the mixing of PLA with traditional plastics during the recycling process. By categorizing PLA alongside traditional plastics, its properties as a second-generation plastic are compromised. PLA's advantage lies not only in its material composition but also in its source and biodegradability. When treated as a separate entity, PLA can undergo proper recycling processes, ensuring that it retains its biodegradability and contributes to a circular economy.

Connecting the Dots:

While the issues of microplastics and PLA may seem unrelated at first, they both shed light on the challenges faced by recycling processes. Microplastics highlight the unintended consequences of recycling, with the potential for widespread environmental contamination and health risks. On the other hand, PLA exemplifies how regulations and categorization can hinder the proper recycling of materials, ultimately leading to their improper disposal.

Actionable Advice:

  • 1. Raise Awareness: Educate consumers about the potential dangers of microplastics and the importance of proper recycling. Encourage responsible disposal of plastic waste and support initiatives that aim to reduce plastic consumption.
  • 2. Improve Recycling Infrastructure: Invest in advanced filtration systems and technologies that can effectively capture and prevent the release of microplastics. Enhance recycling facilities to ensure the proper separation and recycling of different types of plastics, including PLA.
  • 3. Promote Collaboration: Foster partnerships between government agencies, recycling facilities, and plastic manufacturers to develop comprehensive recycling guidelines and regulations. Encourage innovation in recycling technologies and support the development of sustainable alternatives to traditional plastics.

Conclusion:

The challenges associated with recycling are multifaceted and require a comprehensive approach. From the spewing of microplastics during the recycling process to the restrictions placed on certain plastics like PLA, it is evident that recycling alone is not a foolproof solution to plastic waste. However, by raising awareness, improving recycling infrastructure, and promoting collaboration, we can work towards a more sustainable and effective recycling system. Only through collective efforts can we mitigate the environmental impact of plastic waste and build a greener future.

Resource:

  1. "8/1起八大類場所不可使用PLA,為何明明是「生物可分解塑膠」卻被禁用? - The News Lens 關鍵評論網", https://www.thenewslens.com/article/189587/page2 (Glasp)
  2. "Yet Another Problem With Recycling: It Spews Microplastics", https://www.wired.com/story/yet-another-problem-with-recycling-it-spews-microplastics/ (Glasp)

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