Note: For some mysterious reason known to the gods of cyberspace, my pieces on processing of plastic waste vanished from here. I am combining both pieces and re-writing this from my notes.

When processes are dealt with in a holistic fashion, they have a visible and positive environmental and economic impact.

Quoting from an earlier piece:
We have a tendency to view things in isolation, whereas everything in the universe is inter-connected. What is considered as ‘waste’ is the starting point for something that is useful, and so on, till we arrive at a state of zero-waste. Nature does not waste anything, only man does.

So a solution is produced for one ‘problem’, without taking into account interconnections with that ‘problem’, and in the end we have produced more problems than solutions.

Dealing with plastic waste is a world-wide problem and has solutions. Banning plastics is not a solution. Dealing with plastic waste as a resource is. There is a lot of it already accumulated, and more being generated every day. Taking a somewhat contrarian view I am proposing that till alternatives are developed for using plastic packaging and products, plastic waste be used as a valuable resource, which is why this piece is titled, ‘Process — Do Not Recycle’.

Recycling creates it own set of problems, as parts of the unused waste then either clog up drains and waterways, or is dumped in landfills.

Processing on the other hand, (properly done), converts the plastic waste to usable products, leaving no waste for a landfill or polluting the environment. ‘Properly done’ is the keyword here. Like all processes, proper protocols have to be followed, for the desired results. It will be noticed that wherever problems have arisen, it is due to cutting corners, whether in the process of collection or in processing.

The Potential

Let us see what is possible when plastic waste is processed. This includes all kinds of plastic wastes including synthetic fabrics.

One tonne of plastic waste has the potential to:

  • generate 1 MW of electricity from waste heat generated during the process of conversion;
  • generate around 900 litres of fuels, the final products — diesel, aviation turbine fuel, kerosene, fuel oil — determined by the processes used, which are currently available;
  • generate cooling, air conditioning, or heat, depending on the location.

The properly done processing means the plastic waste is converted in a sealed building, where the air from the inside of the facility is fed through a scrubber, before it is released into the atmosphere. This is not a process for cutting corners, where accountancy procedures are allowed to override technological and safety considerations.

The positives

  • Employment generation, direct and indirect, starting from the collection process, processing, and distribution (of fuels).
  • No plastic waste in the streets, drains, waterways, which means cleaner rivers and oceans, and no plastic waste going to landfills.
  • Creation of value in terms of electricity generation, and fuels.
  • Cleaner environment.

To those countries engaged in a debate on exporting their plastic waste, I’d say don’t. Process it, don’t throw away a valuable resource by exporting it.

I have not touched on household and commercial organic waste, which can be used to generate Methane (to electricity), Manure, and Water. Again zero waste goes to a landfill.

Similarly I haven’t touched on cotton products and textiles, which can be processed for bio-ethanol.

The proposition is, that it is possible to have a zero-waste situation if the waste problem is tackled in a holistic manner.