The Challenges and Potential Solutions of Plastic Waste Management and Recycling

Alfred Tang

Alfred Tang

Aug 09, 20233 min read

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The Challenges and Potential Solutions of Plastic Waste Management and Recycling

Introduction:

Plastic pollution has become a pressing global issue, with the inadequate waste management and recycling systems contributing to its relentless growth. While efforts have been made to categorize and recycle different types of plastics, the recent ban on PLA (polylactide) in various locations has sparked confusion and frustration among the public. This article explores the reasons behind the ban, the challenges in PLA recycling, and potential solutions to address the plastic waste crisis.

PLA: A Biodegradable Plastic with Limited Recycling Options:

PLA, a type of biodegradable plastic, was recently added to the list of banned plastics in certain locations. This addition further complicates the already complex classification and recycling process for plastics. One of the main reasons for this ban is the lack of a comprehensive recycling concept among the general public and the insufficient infrastructure for composting PLA. As a result, PLA ends up being treated as non-recyclable plastic, similar to traditional plastics that are improperly disposed of or end up as waste.

The Complexities of PLA Recycling:

Unlike traditional plastics, PLA is biodegradable under high temperatures and high humidity conditions. However, Taiwan has yet to legislate proper recycling and composting mechanisms for PLA. Even if businesses manage to collect and compost PLA, they are not legally allowed to sell the resulting compost or utilize it for secondary purposes. This inability to create a circular flow of money and materials hinders the effective management of PLA waste.

Similarities and Differences with Other Biodegradable Plastics:

PLA shares similarities with other biodegradable plastics, such as PET (polyethylene terephthalate) and PP (polypropylene). These plastics are derived from bio-based sources like corn and potatoes. However, PLA faces unique challenges due to the lack of legislation and infrastructure for its recycling and composting.

International Standards for Biodegradable Plastics:

International standards such as EN 13432 define the criteria for biodegradable plastics. According to this standard, plastic materials subjected to controlled composting conditions must disintegrate into pieces smaller than 2mm within three months. Additionally, 90% of the organic matter in the plastic should convert into carbon dioxide within six months. To ensure the safety of the resulting compost, it must undergo bio-toxicity tests to confirm its suitability for plant growth.

Overcoming Hurdles in Composting PLA:

Composting PLA requires precise temperature control, with the compost's temperature stabilized at 60℃. Regular watering and automated aeration are also necessary to maintain optimal conditions for the survival of microorganisms within the composting process. However, the current recycling rate for PLA in Taiwan is only 5-6%, indicating the significant challenges in establishing a robust PLA recycling and composting system.

Addressing the Plastic Waste Crisis:

  • 1. Improved Public Education and Awareness: Educating the public about the different types of plastics, their recycling options, and the benefits of proper waste management is crucial. By enhancing awareness and understanding, individuals can make informed choices and actively participate in recycling efforts.
  • 2. Enhanced Infrastructure and Legislation: Governments and relevant authorities must prioritize the development of comprehensive recycling and composting infrastructure for biodegradable plastics like PLA. Legislation should be introduced to support the proper collection, processing, and utilization of these materials to create a circular economy.
  • 3. Collaboration and Innovation: Stakeholders from various sectors, including businesses, government agencies, and environmental organizations, should collaborate to develop innovative solutions for plastic waste management. This can involve the use of advanced technologies for recycling, promoting research and development of alternative materials, and implementing sustainable packaging practices.

Conclusion:

The ban on PLA in certain locations highlights the challenges faced in managing and recycling plastic waste effectively. While PLA is a biodegradable plastic, the lack of legislation and infrastructure hampers its proper recycling and composting. Addressing the plastic waste crisis requires a multi-faceted approach, including public education, improved infrastructure, and collaboration among stakeholders. By implementing these actionable steps, we can work towards a more sustainable future and mitigate the harmful impact of plastic pollution on our environment.

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 (Glasp)
  2. "Plastic pollution is growing relentlessly as waste management and recycling fall short, says OECD", https://www.oecd.org/environment/plastic-pollution-is-growing-relentlessly-as-waste-management-and-recycling-fall-short.htm (Glasp)

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