Saturday, February 11, 2012

We Can Recycle Plastic!!!

 It’s well known that over 90% of the metals are being recovered and reused for different purposes. What about the plastics? Why these materials are not recovered? And are there any ways to recycle the plastics?

 In his talk Mike Biddle (2011) presents the way of recycling the plastics. Mike Biddle is a plastics engineer. Discarded plastic ends up buried and burned, not recycled. Mike Biddle has found a way to close the loop. He says: "I consider myself an environmentalist. I hate to see plastics wasted. I hate to see any natural resource – even human time – wasted.” (

 He starts his talk from times of childhood, how people look at stuff in their life. It was like Toddler rules. “It’s my stuff, if I saw it first”, “The entire pile is my stuff, if I am building something”, “The more stuff I have, the better” and of course “It’s your stuff, if it’s broken”. Actually, people don’t leave these Toddler rules behind. This is the way how we've developed into adult people. 

 Every day over 1 million pounds are handled from people’s thrown stuff. The United Nations estimates that there is over 85 billion pounds per year of electronic waste that gets discarded around the world every year and that is one of the most rapidly growing parts of that stream. The more developed the country, the bigger are the mounts of discarded durable goods. People call those mounts “garbage” but those who work in recycling processes they call it “above-ground mines”, because those are valuable raw-materials. It becomes very important to figure out how to extract these raw-materials from waste streams. 

People want more goods, but let’s think: what goes in the making those goods that we use every day? Most of them are many types of plastics and metals. The metals are coming from ore through mining process from all over the world. The plastics are coming from oil. Both processes have huge economic and environmental implications. Anyway, people start to recover and recycle those materials. Metals are very easy to recycle from one another and from other materials. They have very different densities, different electric and magnetic properties, and they have different colors. That’s why it’s very easy for either humans or machines to separate these metals. The majority of people think that plastics are thrown away materials, have very little value, but actually plastics are more valuable than steel or any type of metal. Plastics have overlapping densities over very narrow range, they have either identical or very similar electric and magnetic properties, and any plastic can be in any colors. The traditional ways of separating materials don’t work for plastics. Besides, metals are easy to recycle by humans because many goods from the developed countries are being transformed into the developing countries for law cost recycling. People earn a dollar per day by extracting the metals, but again they can’t recover the plastics. The other way is just burning the plastics to get the metals; also they extract the metals by hand. This is called a low economic cost solution. But this is not the low environmental or human health and safety solution. Mike Biddle calls this process an environmental arbitrage, because it’s not fair, it’s not safe and it’s not sustainable. People try to recycle the plastics also. In Mumbai city of India, people try very hard to separate the plastics by color, by shape, by any technique they can. Sometimes they burn the plastics, and smell, trying to understand the plastic type. But none of these techniques is efficient way of recycling.

 The traditional way to make plastics is with oil. Mike Biddle states that there is more sustainable way to make plastics: not just sustainable from the environmental standpoint, but also sustainable from an economic standpoint. This doesn’t cost as much as oil and it’s plentiful. They were using the mining approach to extract the materials during breaking dawn the plastics into molecules and recombining them. In this way they have significantly lower capital costs and have huge energy savings (80-90%). The consumers enjoy huge CO2 savings; they have more sustainable products. 
 The recycling process starts with metal recyclers; they recover the metals, and leave behind the waste. They receive materials, use magnets, use air classification, and its look like working factory. At the end of this process there are different types of plastics and different grades of plastics. This goes into the multistep separation process. They use the automatic process to sort those plastics by type and by grade. The result is the same material that we get from oil. And those are produced from old stuff, which is going right back into new stuff.
  So now you can find your old stuff back in new products. Companies, by buying those plastics, replace virgin plastic to make new products.  Now the last Toddler rule is a little changed: “If it’s broken, it’s Mike’s stuff”.

The topic is very interesting. The author clearly defines and solves the problem. He uses many examples, logical interpretations during his talk. The topic is accurate and trustworthy, as the author is the specialist in the same industry and shows his own experience during talk. He clearly explains the process of recycling by providing different concepts and ideas related to plastics. In the end he provides his assumptions, perspectives. The author talks clearly, discusses different questions, he shows good sides of this recycling process, but I would like to know also whether there are any bad consequences of this process. 

Source: Biddle, M. (2011) TEDTalks: "We can recycle plastic" Retrieved from:

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