The Complexities of Plastic Recycling: Exploring the Challenges and Solutions

Alfred Tang

Alfred Tang

Aug 18, 20233 min read


The Complexities of Plastic Recycling: Exploring the Challenges and Solutions


Plastic recycling has become a crucial aspect of our efforts to combat environmental pollution and promote sustainability. However, recent developments have shed light on the complexities and challenges that plague the recycling industry. From the banning of certain types of plastics to the presence of harmful chemicals in recycled materials, it is clear that a comprehensive overhaul is urgently needed. In this article, we will delve into the issues surrounding plastic recycling, with a particular focus on the use of PLA (polylactic acid) and the presence of chemicals of concern in recycled plastics.

The PLA Conundrum: Why a Biodegradable Plastic Faces Restrictions:

Starting from August 1st, eight major categories of establishments in Taiwan are prohibited from using PLA, a type of biodegradable plastic. Despite being touted as an environmentally friendly alternative, PLA has been categorized alongside traditional plastics, leading to its disposal being treated similarly to non-recyclable plastics. This classification has negatively impacted the secondary plastic properties of PLA, as it becomes mixed with traditional plastics during the recycling process. However, the responsibility for assessing the environmental friendliness of plastic materials goes beyond a simple categorization based on the material itself.

Understanding the Complexity of Plastic Composition:

Plastics are not as straightforward as they may seem. They are composed of a complex mixture of chemicals, including processing aids, colorants, flame retardants, plasticizers, and unintentional additives that can affect the recycling process. For instance, the presence of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) regulated under the Stockholm Convention can be found in certain plastics, despite their potential harm to the environment. Furthermore, some chemicals are exempted for use in plastics, further complicating the recycling process. Consequently, the toxicity of recycled plastics can accumulate over time, posing a significant challenge to achieving a truly sustainable recycling system.

Addressing the Challenges: Overhauling the Plastic Recycling Systems:

In light of the complexities surrounding plastic recycling, urgent measures are required to address the current shortcomings of the industry. Here are three actionable pieces of advice to initiate a comprehensive overhaul:

  • 1. Improved Labeling and Sorting Techniques: Implementing more accurate and detailed labeling of plastic products can aid in better identification and sorting during the recycling process. This can help in separating plastics with harmful additives or chemicals of concern, ensuring that they do not contaminate the recycled materials.
  • 2. Enhanced Chemical Analysis and Testing: Investing in advanced chemical analysis and testing methods can help identify the presence of harmful chemicals in plastics accurately. By doing so, the recycling industry can prevent the accumulation of toxic substances in recycled materials, ensuring a safer and more sustainable end product.
  • 3. Collaboration and Regulation: Collaboration among stakeholders, including governments, industries, and consumers, is crucial for the success of a revamped plastic recycling system. Governments can introduce regulations that promote the use of safer and more recyclable plastics, while industries can invest in research and development to create innovative recycling technologies. Consumers also play a vital role by making environmentally conscious choices and supporting initiatives that promote sustainable plastic use and recycling.


The challenges faced by the plastic recycling industry are complex and multifaceted. From the misclassification of biodegradable plastics to the presence of harmful chemicals in recycled materials, urgent action is needed to create a more sustainable system. By implementing improved labeling and sorting techniques, enhancing chemical analysis and testing, and fostering collaboration and regulation, we can pave the way for a future where plastic recycling is truly effective and environmentally friendly. Only through collective efforts can we overcome these challenges and create a more sustainable future for our planet.


  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", (Glasp)
  2. "Chemicals of concern: Overhaul urgently needed to fix 'failed' plastic recycling systems", (Glasp)

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