90% to landfill: what are the problems of plastic recycling in Russia

Plastic pollution

Plastic is an organic material based on synthetic or

natural high-molecular compounds - polymers. They, in turn, consist of monomeric units that combine to form macromolecules due to chemical or coordination bonds.

Cheapness, ease of manufacture and highperformance makes plastic the most produced material in the world. During the creation process, synthetic polymers can take almost any shape - from sheets to the finest filaments.

Moreover, plastics are distinguished by high chemical resistance to acids and alkalis, water resistance, do not corrode, and also poorly conduct heat and electric current.

Every second, about 20 thousand people are created in the world.PET bottles, and about 1,000,000 are sold per minute. Every year, the average person produces more than 50 kilograms of plastic waste, most of which are PET bottles and other food packaging, parts and elements of modern equipment that end up in landfills as from the owners. and directly from factories due to defects.

Thus, plastic is the most commona common waste - about 100 million tons of plastics are released into the environment every year, causing irreparable harm to it and endangering other species.

On average, about 9.5 million tons of plastic annuallyenters the world's oceans, forming garbage islands, from which living creatures living in the ocean suffer. So, according to WWF experts, due to the pollution of the ocean, 90% of the populations of large fish will never recover to their previous numbers. Plastic products account for up to 80% of the waste that pollutes the world's oceans.

The annual increase in plastic consumption isup to 8% per year. In the countries of the European Union, only about 25-30% of plastic is recycled, in the USA - 8%, while in developing countries, recycling is practically not carried out.

In total, about 14% of the consumed material is recycled in the world, most of it is buried in landfills. During the entire production of plastics in the world, only 9% was recycled.

Most of the plastic waste is collected inlandfills or decomposes in nature. If the status quo remains unchanged, it is projected that about 12 billion tonnes of plastic will be stored in landfills by 2050. The total weight of the waste will be 35,000 times heavier than the Empire State Building.

Recycling is the main routesolving the problem of plastic pollution. As a result of processing processes, additional products are formed for other industries, and nature is polluted to a much lesser extent. At the same time, the use of secondary waste can significantly reduce the use of primary raw materials such as oil, gas and electricity.

Types of plastic

Plastics differ in chemical composition, hardness and fat content. Plastics are divided into three main types depending on the behavior of the material when heated:

  • Thermoplastics are polymers that, when heated,during processing, they pass from a solid state to a liquid (viscous or highly elastic), and upon cooling, a reverse transition to a solid occurs.
  • Reaktoplasts - polymeric materials that carry overunder the influence of heat, hardeners or catalysts into an insoluble and infusible state. When converted into a finished product, it undergoes irreversible chemical reactions, which makes the material insoluble.
  • Elastomers are the main characteristic of this typeplastic is considered to be indicators of elasticity and viscosity, as well as the ability to reversible deformation - elastomers retain their original shape under dynamic and static loads even at high temperatures. Elastomers include rubbers, rubber, polyurethane.

Prospects for garbage pollution in Russia

According to the Accounts Chamber, in 2019 in Russiaabout 65 million tons of municipal solid waste (MSW) were generated. And this figure will grow by 1-2% every year. If nothing changes, then by 2050 Russians will be dumping roughly 100 million tons annually.

In 2020, plastic, in particular packaging, accounted for half of the volume of municipal waste in Russia. Vice Prime Minister Victoria Abramchenko spoke about this in January 2021.

Detailed data on the composition of utilitieswaste at the level of the whole of Russia is very different. However, it is known that the EcoLine waste management operator analyzed the contents of the bins it serves and counted municipal waste in Moscow. The company found that plastic accounts for up to 55% of the volume of its recycling bins (blue bins).

What do they do with garbage in Russia?

Today, almost all the rubbish of Russians ends up onlandfills and dumps: more than 90% of waste is sent to landfill. Landfills already occupy an area comparable to that of Switzerland. A year later, 17 regions will run out of landfills, and after three - in another 15.

About 7% of waste is recycled. And this is only 4.5 million tons. According to the Ministry of Industry and Trade of Russia, only 30% of all waste paper generated in a year becomes recyclable.

  • from polyethylene waste - 20%,
  • polypropylene - 17%,
  • polyvinyl chloride - 10%,
  • polystyrene - 12%,
  • thermoplastics - 12%,
  • glass - 7.5%.

At the same time, according to the RusPEK association,only a small part of the bottles gets recycled - about 7.8%. There are 4 waste incineration plants (incineration plants) operating in the country, and today part of the waste is sent for incineration.

But this figure may soon increase, becausein Russia they want to stake on combustion: by 2027 they plan to build 30 incinerators in different regions. As a result, relatively safe waste will be converted

I'm in toxic ash, for which you need to build separate landfills.

What can be done besides recycling?

We are often told that only recycling canto solve the garbage problem of Russia. The national project "Ecology" sets goals to increase indicators: by 2030, it is necessary to sort 100% of waste, and recycle - 49.5%.

Recycling is an important part of the cyclical economy and a method of reducing the number of landfills and landfills. Once recycled, used goods and packaging become raw materials for new goods.

But only through one processing to get out ofa garbage crisis will not work: you need to reduce the waste stream at the stage of goods production. Even countries that have long relied on the development of such infrastructure cannot cope with the entire volume of waste.

For example, most European Union countries recycle no more than 50% of plastic packaging, while the United States recycles less than 10%. The rest is sent to landfills or burned.

Waste processing consists of several stages. First, the population collects waste at home, sorts it and sends it to bins for separate collection or to special collection points.

The companies serving them - regional waste management operators or private procurers - sort the resulting raw materials and prepare them for sale to processing plants.

Recyclable materials are extracted from mixed waste and onwaste sorting complexes. It happens like this: the waste arriving at the station is poured onto a belt, where the most valuable recyclable materials are manually or automatically selected.

Later it is pressed into bales and sentto the processor. The processor converts fractions into raw materials - for example, into small granules, which can then be used to produce new goods. However, this method is not very effective: no more than 10% of recyclable materials can be extracted from the total waste stream.

Processing problems in Russia

  • There is nowhere to hand over the sorted waste

Only every third resident of a large cityRussia has access to separate waste collection. In 2019, 27 million Russians could send waste for recycling, while the rest did not have the right infrastructure - bins for recyclable materials near their homes.

The law does not oblige regional operators to install such tanks and develop separate waste collection.

  • Many products and packaging are not accepted

Technical Regulations of the Customs Union "Onpackaging safety "TR CU 005/2011 * obliges to put on goods and packaging a label with information about the material from which they are made, and a special sign - a Moebius loop.

It makes it clear to buyers whether the item is subject orpackaging recyclable. But this does not mean that any item with a Moebius loop, which was nevertheless managed to be sorted and put into the tank, will be accepted by the procurers. If the goods are contaminated, then the supplier may refuse to take it.

Due to contact with food waste, recyclingbecomes almost impossible: organic matter is difficult to wash from raw materials. This makes the whole process difficult and unprofitable. Another enemy of recycling is shrink wrap.

Association "Separate Collection" conducted a survey amongrecyclers on how the film affects the recycling process. The respondents confirmed that they have to abandon such raw materials during sorting or manually remove such films, and this significantly increases the cost of raw materials.

It is simply unprofitable for them to work with such bottles.If a bottle (PET) with such a film (most often PVC) still gets recycled, then due to the difference in the chemical composition of the materials, raw materials of lower quality will be obtained. And it can no longer be used in the food industry.

  • Not all goods can be processed into similar goods

Only 17% of PET bottles collected in Russia are processed into a similar product, and the rest goes to the production of technical fabrics and building materials.

This process is called downcycling -downstream processing. This process results in lower quality raw materials and cannot be reused in the food industry.

Instead, it will be made into carpets,clothes or toys that will not be recycled again and end up in landfills. And to create food bottles, you will have to re-produce primary plastic to meet the demand of the packaging market.

Using recycled plastic

  • Plastic materials

Tables are made from recycled HDPE material,roadside curbs, benches, dumpsters, stationery, as well as bottles for packing household chemicals, shampoos, building materials, material for making pipes.

Recyclable materials are introduced for packaging of toiletaccessories and consumer goods, bristles, lint, household brushes, brooms, brushes, garbage bags and films of technical value, buckets, flower pots.

Recycled polyethylene is used to produce new bottles, disposable containers, packaging bags and films, decorative fences, pressure pipes, and finishing tiles.

  • clothing

The production of recycled polyester is one of the most popular uses for recycled plastic waste.

In European countries, about 70% of recycled PET is processed into polyester fibers, which is used to insulate clothes, sleeping bags, and stuffed toys.

Fibers with a smaller diameter make upartificial wool for clothing, which can contain up to 100% recycled material. Recycled plastics are also used to produce materials such as nylon, organza, taffeta.

  • Furniture

Some of the IKEA kitchen sets are made ofrecycled plastic. The Dutch design team The New Raw prints benches on a 3D printer from recycled plastic, and in 2019 it became known that furniture made from recycled plastic will be installed in Kazan parks and squares.

  • Roads

Concept developed in Holland by KWSPlasticRoad is about making roads from recycled plastic. The creators believe that plastic roads are much more profitable than asphalt ones, since modules made of recycled material are lightweight and well attached to each other.

Due to the internal cavity in them, you canlay communications and pipes. Moreover, they have a long service life. Some of this technology is already being implemented in India. In Russia, road fences are made that imitate wood planks.

What is rarely processed in Russia?

Least of all procurers are ready to take goods,made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC, 3) and mixed plastic. Materials such as polypropylene (PP, 5) and polystyrene (PS, 6) are also not popular with suppliers.

The most popular plastics werepolyethylene terephthalate (PET, 1), low pressure polyethylene (HDPE, 2) and high pressure polyethylene (LDPE, 4). However, this does not mean that procurers are ready to accept any product with such markings.

If the items are made of the same type of plastic, butthey have different volume and wall thickness, and different technologies will be required for their processing. The supplier will have to collect such goods in different batches, and manual sorting can be difficult. Therefore, it is easier to refuse such goods.

Most often, procurers take:

  • containers from household chemicals (62%),
  • colored and opaque PET bottles (59%).

The most unpopular goods among procurers, containers andpackaging - those made of composite materials - doypack, sachet bags and capsules for coffee machines. Disposable dishes and cutlery, containers-shells for cooking, plastic glasses for drinks and lids from them are almost not accepted by procurers in Russia.

If the supplier works with plastic of a certain marking, this does not guarantee that he will accept any item from this type of plastic.

For example, although 94% of respondents accept PET,only 28% of them confirmed that they work with bottles from vegetable oil, 43% - from dairy products, and 59% - with colored and opaque bottles.

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