The United States currently recycles approximately 9% of plastics. This number seems jarring, particularly when compared with the amount of paper recycled nationally, which measures closer to 65%. The issue can largely be attributed to the nature of plastic itself — or, rather, plastics themselves. With thousands of different kinds of plastic in circulation, one traditional method of recycling will surely not fit all. Fortunately, a more advanced process of plastic repurposing exists, especially where medical, pharmaceutical, and food packaging materials are concerned.
“Advanced recycling” refers to three major techniques of breaking down low-cost used plastics into their original polymers and feedstacks in order to be regenerated into new and more sustainable products. These techniques are: pyrolysis, gasification, and depolymerization. In pyrolysis, the plastics are heated in an oxygen-free environment, which thermally decomposes and condenses the materials. Gasification follows a similar process, but the oxygen in the environment is controlled, producing syngas, which is then condensed into new material. In depolymerization, the plastics are broken down into monomers to then produce multiple valuable materials.
Throughout the advanced recycling process, low-cost used plastics are broken down into their original polymers and feedstacks in order to be regenerated into new and more sustainable products. This provides an avenue to create entirely new life cycles for plastics. These technologies have been adapting over the past decade to pick up where traditional recycling ends and continue into a more advanced, fuller process for plastic recycling that can open up greater possibilities for medical, pharmaceutical, and packaging uses.
To Be Continued in Part 2 …