Is it true that plastic waste is not being recycled?

Is it true that plastic waste is not being recycled?

And there we are, trusting that all our effort in separating waste and going out two, three or four times to distribute garbage in each container will pay off. And now they tell you that that the garbage that is sorted out for recycling is not being recycled? Is this really true? Are our efforts really in vain? Is it true that all that glitters in terms of recycling is not really gold? Well, there are many aspects that have to be taken into account and that we are going to discover below.

True or false? Everything is being recycled

They insist on the need to recycle but, when it comes to doing so, it is not an easy process. You have to know, before starting, that barely half of the waste generated is recyclable. Of course, it is not a bad figure and that doing this would already be an achievement for the planet. But if you were a person obsessed with recycling, you will probably feel disappointed. However, more and more work is being done so that the chances of recycling are increasing.

Is plastic recycled yes or no?

One of our greatest desires, having become aware of the value of the environment, is to recycle plastic. Yes, it can be recycled, but beware, not everything! In fact, hardly a fraction of all the plastics we throw away can be recovered. The problem is that plastic is usually mixed with other materials, that is, contaminated or accompanied by food and various elements. Thus, the plastic suffers and ends up in landfills.

For plastic to be one hundred percent recyclable, we would have to eliminate other non-plastic materials that accompany it, as well as food remains, among others. That is, plastic is usually contaminated. To recycle it, it has to be clean of non-reusable waste.

For example, a plastic bottle has to be stripped of its label and of the liquid it contains, be it water or soda, milk or alcoholic beverages. Only then can it be deposited in the container for plastics and be suitable to go to the plastic container to continue the recycling chain.

Recycling plastic would be a help to the environment. Because plastic does not disappear, but lasts over time, causing the accumulation of garbage that does not degrade. In addition, the accumulation of plastics causes damage to health and the ecosystem.

Do you want to recycle responsibly? The next time you have plastic on your hands, clean it well before throwing it away. And take them to a recycling container for the material in question. Because plastics can have a second life!

Organic waste – why waste separation really works!

Organic waste – why waste separation really works!

To get straight to the point: Yes, waste separation works! And yes, disposing of organic waste separately makes sense in many ways and is not some crazy idea of some eco-hardliners. But why? Millions of tons of organic waste are collected in the UK every year in the organic waste bin, mainly kitchen and garden waste. In the fermentation and composting plants, this is used to produce biogas, which helps us to become less dependent on natural gas imports in terms of energy and to protect the climate. On the other hand, these plants produce huge amounts of compost from the organic waste, which is useful in agriculture. We need less artificial fertilizer, which in turn protects the nature and the climate.

Collecting and recycling organic waste separately makes twice as much sense!

The lawmakers have also recognized this. Since 2015, cities and municipalities in the UK have been obliged to provide a system for the separate collection of organic waste. Not all municipalities comply with this obligation. And far too many only offer organic waste bins voluntarily instead of using them as a mandatory requirement. The result: Millions of tons of valuable organic waste end up in the residual waste bin.

When it comes to the collection of organic waste, not everything runs smoothly. A lot of recyclable waste still ends up in the residual waste. An average residual waste bin contains:

39.3% organic waste
27.6% recyclables such as plastic, metal and glass
0.5% problematic substances
and only 32.6% real residual waste!

If we were to collect it consistently in the UK, an estimated eight million tons of organic waste would come together – as a valuable raw material for energy production and for agriculture. So there is still a lot of room for improvement when it comes to separating waste!

Too many “mistakes”

Fatally, not only does too much organic waste end up in the residual waste, but also too much residual waste and recyclables in the organic bins. The experts call it “mistakes”. One thing is clear: plastic bags, glass and cans have no place in the organic waste bin! They contaminate the organic waste and thus also the valuable compost that is to be produced at the end. After all, it makes little sense to spread microplastics and other waste on the fields together with the compost. Unfortunately, removing this waste from the organic waste is extremely time-consuming and therefore not a practicable option.

Principles for the bio bin

It is therefore important that we all use the organic waste bin sensibly. It’s not rocket science, you just need to remember a few basic rules. Although be aware: what is allowed in the organic waste bin and what is not can vary from region to region. The local waste management companies regulate the details individually. So it’s worth checking the website of the municipality or the local waste management company.

Basically, however:

Kitchen waste, spoiled food, coffee grounds, small amounts of garden waste, cut flowers and much more belong in the bin.
Ashes, diapers, packaging, hygiene articles and plastics do not belong in the bin – even if it is described as “biodegradable”!
It is best to collect organic waste in separate small containers, which are then regularly tipped into the large bin. The waste can be wrapped in (little) paper so that there is no mess. Important: Do not use brightly printed paper! Special, coated bags made of (recycled) paper are also okay.
However, special “compostable” plastic bags are generally not suitable. In most recycling plants, they count as contaminants. The local municipality or the waste management company will also provide information on this.
Organic waste from the kitchen is thrown straight from a bowl into the bio bin. Compost in your own garden.
A word on the disposal of food: Millions of tons are thrown away in the UK every year – an unbelievably large amount. The top priority must be to actually consume the food we buy instead of throwing it away. And only if something is spoiled does it belong in the compost bin!

So it’s actually not that difficult to dispose of organic waste sensibly – if you know the basics.

What happens to my yoghurt pot? – Behind the scenes of a sorting plant

What happens to my yoghurt pot? – Behind the scenes of a sorting plant

The basics of separating waste says: A yoghurt pot belongs in the yellow sack, the yellow bin or the recycling bin. But a visit to a sorting plant for packaging waste shows just how important proper waste separation really is.

Waste separation – and then?

After the packaging waste and any other items made of plastic and metal are collected at home, it goes to a sorting plant for plastics. On average, around 150,000 tons of waste from the yellow sack and the recycling bin pass through the sorting line in the sorting plant. In a three-shift operation, the material does not lie for longer than 24 hours.

Manual sorting is largely a thing of the past; most things are now fully automated. The bags containing recyclable materials are first torn open in a funnel-shaped bag opener, and the material falls loosely onto a conveyor belt. The belt then moves to the perforation drums, large plastic packaging, beverage cartons and cups are separated from the rest and brought directly to the material recognition machine using a scanner. Foils are also separated by means of an air flow, because otherwise they prevent other materials from being recognized.

How the cup ends up in the right faction

Boxes with near-infrared scanners above the conveyor belts ensure that the different types of plastics are correctly assigned to the fractions. Sometimes it still happens that a yoghurt pot with an aluminum lid is swept away and thus incorrectly separated. An overhead magnet skillfully pulls tinplate and aluminum parts off the conveyor belt. It is therefore important that the consumer separates the aluminum lid from the rest of the cup beforehand. The same applies to a cup with a paper cover – it is best to remove the cover and put it in the paper bin, the rest of the yoghurt cup in the yellow sack. Otherwise it can happen that the entire cup is incorrectly recognized as paper by the sorting scanners and ends up in the paper fraction.

Black plastics are not yet so common in yoghurt pots. They are sometimes used in hygiene products for men and are particularly difficult to sort. Since they usually cannot be detected by the near-infrared scanner, they either have to be sorted by gap detection or finally sorted manually by the staff. The error rate is therefore particularly high with these black plastics.

Air barriers are used to classify the various types of plastic scanned into the correct fraction step by step. The result is five (some sorting systems even manage up to eight) separate plastic fractions: for example polyethylene terephthalate (PET), polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP), polystyrene (PS) and mixed plastics. The single-variety plastics are pressed into bales and passed on to the recyclers. A bale weighs on average about 150 kilograms and must meet the requirement of purity of 95 to 96 percent for the recycler to accept it.

The journey ends after 15 minutes

A yoghurt pot runs through the entire system within 15 minutes and ideally ends up in the right fraction. All of this can only happen, however, if the plastics are collected as separately as possible from other waste – which is why waste separation has top priority. Waste separation is an important part of recycling, and humans can (still) separate better than any machine. That’s why it’s so important to only put rubbish in the yellow sack, yellow bin or recycling bin that really belongs there.

Technological research is also focused on developing better separation machines, for example sorting systems with fluorescent substances (tracer base sorting) are being developed. Of course, the manufacturers come first: If they use single-variety plastics right from the start and use single materials instead of plastic packaging made of several materials, there is almost nothing standing in the way of good sorting, even by machine.

Higher recovery and recycling rates for packaging waste were introduced in 2019, so that owners of sorting systems also have to make a better effort to achieve the goals and, for example, upgrade to the separation of foils that were not previously sorted out. This shows the fact that regulatory law must first take effect in order to push companies to apply what is already technically possible. BOMAC Industries offers state-of-the art sorting and recycling installations for various kinds of waste.

Collect organic waste and protect the environment

Collect organic waste and protect the environment

Many people find collecting vegetable waste and leftovers rather disgusting – especially in midsummer, when the organic waste in the kitchen can also attract small flies. But because we know what valuable things can be made from vegetable waste, coffee grounds, banana or orange peel, it’s routine for us.

Compost is organic material that helps plants grow when added to the soil. Food scraps and yard waste make up about 30 percent of our waste and could be composted instead. Making compost keeps these materials out of landfills where they take up space and release methane, which is a very strong greenhouse gas. By the way, an organic waste bin and your own garden compost do not contradict each other: A lot of things that are not allowed on your own compost can go into the organic waste bin, for example bone or meat leftovers. In addition, we usually produce more organic waste than we can use for our own garden anyway.

Organic waste is very rich in energy and nutrients. Properly disposed of in the organic waste bin, it either ends up in a “fermentation plant”, where climate-neutral biogas is obtained from it, or in a “composting plant“. Valuable fertilizer for agriculture and peat-free soil for the garden are produced here from organic waste. If we separate our waste properly, we support the energy transition and more sustainable agriculture!

How to collect organic waste in the most environmentally friendly way

The most environmentally friendly way to separate your organic waste is to take it straight from the kitchen bowl to the organic waste bin. You can put a little paper in the bowl to absorb the moisture. This can be thrown into the compost bin. However, please do not use brightly printed paper so that no residues of the printing inks end up in the compost. Numerous manufacturers offer organic collection containers for the kitchen, some with special filter lids to reduce unpleasant odors. Another option are special paper bags. These are specially coated so that they remain tear-resistant when the organic waste is wet. When buying, you should make sure that the bags are made of recycled paper with the Blue Angel.

Incidentally, most waste disposal companies advise against special bags made of biodegradable plastic. The plastic does not decompose quickly enough in their composting plants and thus ends up in the environment as plastic scraps or microplastics. Furthermore, the degradable plastic bags in the plants can only be distinguished from the conventional plastic bags with difficulty, so that they are often sorted out before composting to be on the safe side – often including the valuable content!

Join the “organic waste bin promise”!

The Federal Ministry for the Environment and other partners called last year for the big “organic waste bin promise”. You can make a promise to throw all your organic waste in the organic waste bin. To ensure that less plastic ends up in the organic waste bin we support eco-friendly initiatives that encourage people to eat more biologically produced foods, buy foods in eco-friendly and naturally degradable packaging and to separate and recycle all plastic waste from our households. We are constantly active to find new technologies for plastic recycling and production process that limit waste, especially non-recyclable waste.

How is plastic recycled and why do we recycle at all

How is plastic recycled and why do we recycle at all

In everyone’s mind is the image of the suffering of a bird with a plastic bag inside its throat. Or the images of the garbage island, in the North Pacific Ocean between California and Hawaii, where, according to a study in the journal Nature, the waste covers 1.6 million km2 (almost three times the size of France) and contains almost 80,000 tons of plastic. Every minute about a million plastic bottles are bought on our earth, and every year about 500,000 million bags are used. Annually, eight million tons of plastic ends up in the oceans.

Since 1950, more than 8 billion tons of plastic of all kinds have been produced in the world and a lot of that has ended up in the environment. How can we stop these figures of rising entirely out of proportions? Plastic recycling is essential. This awareness of the necessity of recycling has to be fixed in into the minds of governments, companies and society in general.

Plastic, present in numerous products, is made up of polymers of resins and substances that come from petroleum that are molded using pressure and heat. Although they can be natural if they come from vegetable raw materials, the most widespread are the synthetic ones. Made from compounds derived from petroleum, natural gas or coal, these plastics come in a big variety of types with different characteristics. Nevertheless, there are four groups that could be identified as the main plastics:

Polyethylene (PE) – Present in plastic bags, plastic sheets and films, containers, microspheres of cosmetics and abrasive products.
Polyester (PET) – They include bottles, containers or clothing.
Polypropylene (PP) – This is mainly part of household appliances or vehicle parts.
Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) – Present in pipes, valves or windows.

Plastic recycling process

As with materials such as glass or paper and cardboard, several phases are followed to recycle plastic.

  • Plastic waste is separated and disposed of in the corresponding container. This is, without a doubt, the first step to be able to continue the fight against plastic waste and to promote recycling. For this, the work of citizens and companies is essential. But what can be thrown into the recycling container? Plastic containers (such as bottles), metal containers (such as cans) and tetrabriks (such as milk or juice packages). It is also possible to deposit the cork trays.
  • Collection and transfer to the sorting plant. All the plastic waste collected in this container is transferred to a plant, where the materials are selected and classified by type and colors.
  • Shredding and washing. Once the materials are sorted out, the waste is crushed and washed to remove impurities. Once this step has been carried out, they are dried and centrifuged in order to eliminate any remaining contaminations and are homogenized with a mechanical process to achieve a uniform color and texture.
  • Regeneration of a new bottle or product. After renewed purification of the material, the plastic is ready to give it a new shape and color according to the intended product, and as a final step passing through the relevant quality controls.

There are multiple uses that can be given to recycled plastic and the products that can be created from it. It is possible to see this material in the form of new packaging, slippers, clothing (read our recent article on how PET bottles can be turned into new clothing), accessories and there are even those who have used it to create a boat and those who give it a second life in the form of a musical instrument.

Objective: reduce plastic to help the environment

In addition to recycling plastic, it is necessary to implement measures that contribute to reducing the consumption of plastics, as well as developing new solutions that replace this material.

The first step in the human attempt to reduce the plastic footprint is to produce biodegradable polymers through the use of additives. However, this does not solve the problem of its petrochemical origin by having to use a non-renewable energy source. Work is also being done on the manufacturing of bioplastics based on materials such as starch or cellulose.

Biotechnology could also play an important role in this scenario, since it could be used to create microorganisms capable of degrading tons of waste that would continue to be generated despite recycling or the creation of new, more sustainable plastics.

Eliminate single-use plastics

Some governments are working to promote measures to reduce plastic, such as the Peruvian government, which launched the ‘Promises for Plastic’ campaign within the framework of COP25, linked to several commitments:

  • That no human being ingests microplastics through the consumption of fish and other marine animals.
  • Avoid the death of animals by ingesting plastic waste.
  • Stop the discharge of plastics into the ocean.
  • Implement laws for industries to reduce the production of single-use plastic.

In Argentina, a resolution was approved that banned the use of non-biodegradable plastic bags in hypermarkets, supermarkets and minimarkets for food and beverages.

In Mexico, one city is leading the fight against single-use plastics: Mexico City. The congress of the Mexican capital approved several reforms to the local Solid Waste Law and established that products such as straws, plates or plastic balloons cannot be distributed unless they are made of compostable materials. The Government of Colombia, which has a National Plan for the Sustainable Management of Single-Use Plastics, is also working along the same lines.

The Uruguayan Government, through its “Law on the sustainable use of plastic bags” established several measures to discourage their use and promote their reuse and recycling.

The Council of the European Union approved in March 2019 the disappearance of single-use plastics in 2021 such as:

  • Single-use plastic cutlery (spoons, forks, knives and chopsticks).
  • Disposable plastic plates.
  • Plastic drinking straws
  • Cotton swabs for the ears made of plastic.
  • Plastic sticks to hold balloons.
  • Oxo degradable plastics and food containers.

At the fourth United Nations Environment Assembly, a global agreement was reached in line with that of the EU to eliminate single-use plastics by 2030.

At BOMAC Industries, we strongly support all efforts of people, organizations, companies and governments to build a circular and sustainable economy. We keep investing in research and development of new technologies that can help us to recycle plastic and to produce alternatives such as biodegradable materials. Take a look at our latest products and see how you can help to build a cleaner world yourself.

Efficient recycling needs innovative technology

Efficient recycling needs innovative technology

Aluminium can be recycled an unlimited number of times with a high level of quality, especially if scrap can be sorted according to type. If you take the entire recycling process into account, on average only 5% of the energy that was used for the previous primary production is required. The light metal is thus a core component of a resource-saving circular economy. Sorted material fractions that are already mixed with exactly the amounts of alloying metal required for the intended next application are ideal for quick and clean recycling.

Aluminum manufacturers can secure such pure fractions from the residues of their own production processes. Though, it becomes more difficult with scrap from manufacturers further up in the supply chain, be it manufacturers of facades, packaging materials or vehicles. They usually use different alloys or materials and cannot separate every residue by type. It is even more difficult to obtain pure fractions when separating collected products at the end of their use: cans from street collection containers are common in many countries. Their components are often connected to plastics. Car parts are often joined from different groups of materials.

Norwegian Hydro continues to develop processes for sorting and separating materials, right down to the separation of alloy groups. An important basis is a technology funded by the Federal Ministry for the Environment and offered for further licensing. With it, Hydro separates used components with the highest precision in the industry. Hydro Research & Development has perfected this technology to become the best sorting process for used beverage cans: since June 2016, a state-of-the-art facility in Neuss (Germany) has been processing up to 50,000 tons or 3 billion beverage cans a year. The short life cycle in particular makes the environmental advantage obvious; a can handed in for recycling via the Green Dot is often produced and filled back on the shelf in just 60 days.

Thanks to more and more aluminum, lighter vehicles are emerging that use less fuel and therefore emit less CO2. The press shops in the automotive industry punch various sheet metal components mostly from 5xxx or 6xxx aluminum alloys. This requires separation of production scrap and makes recycling of this scrap complex.

This applies all the more to the recycling of vehicles at the end of their useful life. When shredding vehicles, components often made of different alloys, for example with a high silicon content, are mixed together with wrought alloys with lower and different alloys. Due to its higher silicon content, the alloy mixture obtained from this can usually only be used as a starting material for cast alloys.

Leap in development for improved automobile recycling

On the other hand, the most modern sorting technology makes it possible to maintain the quality of the automotive materials. The problems that still exist with a clean separation of 5xxx and 6xxx alloys for recycling should soon be solved thanks to Hydro’s cooperation with the US company Austin AI. Their technology is based on laser-induced emission spectroscopy (LIBS: Laser-induced-breakdown-spectroscopy) and shows advantages compared to other LIBS configurations. There are already good results in clean sorting and clear separation of these alloys. A pilot project sorting plant is currently being built at Hydro R&D in Bonn in order to bring the process to robust industrial maturity.

LIBS was studied by Metallgesellschaft AG as early as the 1980s and later by Huron Valley Steel Corporation. This automated sorting technology uses a laser pulse to vaporize part of the sample surface. The resulting plasma is analyzed with spectrometers in milliseconds and compared with the sorting task. Pulses of compressed air then separate the desired aluminum parts from the rest of the scrap stream.

With today’s developments, particular attention is paid to economic feasibility using the latest laser and spectrometer technologies. This means: With a required throughput of a few tons per hour, depending on the weight, several hundred pieces of scrap must be analyzed and sorted within a second. The process then closes a highly effective cycle for scrap and end-of-life vehicles, with significant savings in energy, resources and effort – another boost for sustainable lightweight construction with aluminum.

Research and development of new technologies play an important role in the future of all kinds of recycling. BOMAC Industries is committed to the development of these technologies, not only for the recycling of aluminium, copper and other metals but for all kinds of waste such as plastic waste recycling and paper recycling as well.

Waste is a resource – it’s worth separating!

Waste is a resource – it’s worth separating!

Among many people, we keep hearing the argument that it’s not worth separating waste because everything would end up being thrown together again anyway. Recently, there has also been a growing fear that the neatly separated plastic waste might even be exported and end up on the beaches of Asia. We would like to clear up these “fairy tales” at this point.

Waste is not just waste

Even if there is still a lot of potential in recycling: packaging waste can only be recycled at all if everyone separates the waste at home. So we decide on the basis for recycling ourselves every day. It is by no means the case that the waste from the yellow bin is simply thrown back into the residual waste. Rather, “the best” is fished out of the waste in the yellow bin in the sorting plants: This means material for which there is currently a commercial market, such as white shampoo bottles or beverage cartons. The rest goes to special waste incineration plants. Unfortunately, even in an environmentally conscious country like Germany, only half of the plastic packaging waste is recycled. That’s because “fresh plastic” is cheaper for the economy to produce than recycled plastic, and there hasn’t been a government mandate to recycle more plastic packaging for years.

Only in 2019 did the German Federal Government set new binding “recycling quotas”. Without such quotas, there is no incentive for businesses to invest in the expensive recycling systems. By this year, 63 percent of plastic waste will have to be recycled. This is ambitious and only works if the packaging is designed to be more recycling-friendly, if more recycled plastics are used in products and packaging – and this is where the circle closes – if everyone separates their waste at home.

Receipts don’t belong in the waste paper? But egg cartons, even if there is a green dot on the carton? If you are unsure about what needs to be separated, ecosistant has composed an article about how to separate waste correctly.

The export problem

As far as the export of plastic waste from Germany is concerned: one million tons of plastic waste were exported in 2019 (not just packaging), which is about a sixth of all plastic waste. There are also unrecorded illegal exports. Packaging from Germany has also been found in Southeast Asia. However, according to the current state of knowledge, the waste seems to be primarily of commercial origin, i.e. waste that occurs in production and trade. On the other hand, 99 percent of the waste from the yellow bin is recycled within the EU and for the most part in Germany itself. We therefore appeal to everyone not to stop separating the rubbish at home under any circumstances.

Waste is an important source of raw materials for the future. In view of the ever-increasing global consumption of natural raw materials and the pollution of air, soil and water, we have to recycle all materials and reuse them as often as possible. BOMAC Industries provides high-tech recycling equipment for competitive market prices to help all efforts to increase the amount of plastic waste that is recycled in Europe and America. But don’t forget: avoiding waste is of course even more important than recycling! In view of the global scarcity of resources, the best waste is that which is not created in the first place.