Recycling Plastics

Plastic recycling plays a vital role in promoting sustainability and circular economy by reducing the need for virgin plastics, diverting waste from landfills, and mitigating the harmful effects of plastic pollution on the environment.

Plastic recycling is the process of converting discarded plastic materials into new products through collection, sorting, cleaning, and reprocessing. After collection, the plastic waste undergoes sorting based on its type and color, followed by cleaning to remove contaminants. The cleaned plastics are then shredded or melted into pellets, which serve as raw material for the production of new plastic items.

The Problem

Recycling and remanufacturing plastic saves between 30% to 80% of the carbon emissions that manufacturing virgin plastic produces. 

Yet, only less than 14% of used plastic packaging is collected for recycling. 

Uncollected plastic not only presents a lost economic opportunity, but is also a direct threat to the environment.

Potential Solutions

Recycling is a fundamental pillar of plastic waste management. By diverting plastic waste from landfills and incineration, recycling conserves resources, reduces pollution, and promotes a circular economy.

Increasing plastic collection rates is critical in order to recapture valuable materials for recycling and is achievable with proper separation at source or at post-collection (such as at waste banks). Developing local recycling infrastructure and second use markets can also help extract value from discarded materials that would otherwise end up in landfills or worse, in nature, creating further costs to the economy and society.

Financial instruments applied to encourage recycling (called recycling incentives) are essentially different from pay-as-you-throw (PAYT) schemes as they consist of payments or rewards to encourage people to recycle more, typically with vouchers for individuals, vouchers for communities or payments to individuals. In addition to direct incentives in the form of vouchers, an effective recycling incentive is also the reduction of waste fees for residents willing to separate more waste at source or when waste recycling targets at local level are achieved. From an economic point of view, these instruments are sometimes applied in lieu of direct regulation.

References:

Ellen MacArthur Foundation. (2017). The new plastics economy: Rethinking the future of plastics & Catalysing action

Imperial College London and Veolia (2020). ‘Examining Material Evidence’
the Carbon Fingerprint Report

Case Studies

Surat Thani Case Study
Community Generates Funds from Selling Recyclables through a Waste Bank Initiative
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Recykal
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Recycling Incentive Scheme
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Product Certification
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Vietnam Community-based Municipal Solid Waste
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Vietnam Material Recovery Facility Initiative
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Mechanical Recycling
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Litter Traps
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