Society has always recycled and utilized certain waste fractions as raw materials for new products. However, in our modern times the utilization and recycling of waste has become even more pressing due to the scarcity of unprocessed virgin materials and concerns over the non-sustainable use of natural resources. In addition to this, the increasing cost of waste management, limited landfill space and perhaps most importantly, what is perceived to be the climate change impacts of waste decomposition in landfills has also increased interest in recovering waste as either material or energy.
Through the use of waste as the raw material for new products, the wastage of resources can be avoided and energy can be saved. Recycling is also considered as one way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions within waste management an plastics make up a large percentage of the recyclable waste produced.
So exactly how does plastic recycling save in energy and reduce in greenhouse emissions? Based on data from U.S. EPA, the generation of cleaned recycled resin required 71 trillion Btu less than the amount of energy that would be required to produce the equivalent tonnage of virgin PET and HDPE resin. In other words, the amount of energy saved by recycling PET and HDPE containers including bottles in 2008 was the equivalent to the annual energy use of 750,000 U.S. homes. The corresponding savings in greenhouse gas emissions was 2.1 million tons of CO2 equivalents, an amount comparable to taking 360,000 cars off the road.
A new study, “Final Report—Life Cycle Inventory of 100% Postconsumer HDPE and PET Recycled Resin from Postconsumer Containers and Packaging inventory studies involve the compilation and quantification of inputs and outputs for a given product system throughout its life cycle. A typical LCI looks at the total energy use, greenhouse gas emissions and waste generated from raw materials extraction through manufacturing, transportation, use and disposal or recycling.
Material recycling can also decrease both the direct and indirect greenhouse gas emissions. Direct emissions are decreased when waste is not disposed of at landfills nor treated in any other way (e.g. combustion). Indirect emissions can be cut down by decreasing the energy consumption both in acquiring and producing raw materials and also in manufacturing the product itself. Furthermore, at the production stage greenhouse gas emissions can be decreased by avoiding emissions originating from sources other than energy consumption. This is where plastic recycling companies play a vital role in the process.
It is possible to substitute virgin material with recovered material in which case the emissions from manufacturing a product from virgin material can be avoided. In most cases the replacement of virgin materials by recycled materials decreases the use of net energy and thus the greenhouse gas emissions originating from energy production decrease. Greenhouse gas emissions can also be reduced by avoiding the use of materials, which produce emissions directly in the production phase. On the other hand recycling can produce greenhouse gas emissions if transportation operations increase or waste disposal.
Therefore, plastic recycling companies provide an important service in helping to reduce waste and greenhouse emissions. As a plastic recycler they play a vital role in taking what is essentially waste and transforming it into a useful product that serves a function and helps to save our environment.