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Mitigating approaches in plastic waste management

Author(s): Carlos Alberto Correa

While global capacity of plastic production continues to esca- late, recovery of waste seems to be heading into a deadlock1. Petrochemicals are making use of all resources in order to re- main on a business-as-usual approach trying to put blame on consumer malpractices and inefficient collecting schemes to steer away from environmental impact caused by plastic litter- ing spreading all over the Earth3. Lack of proper waste man- agement policies in place is raising / arousing deep concern by governments and public as disposed waste, incineration and littering offsets by large the amount which is efficiently recycled. Recent surveys carried out in the UK points out to the complexities and confusion over plastics recycling whilst Europe and North America faces the consequences of the em- bargo of plastic waste shipping to Asia and Africa3. It seems that the problem goes much beyond basic understanding of inherent complexities stemmed from polymer chemistry itself and formulation of plastics as a whole4. The Resin Identifica- tion Code (RIC) which is mostly used for recycling purposes is currently under review by ASTM, as it does not seem to handle any longer the myriad of plastic products which hit the mar- ket with multiple functionalities and even more challenging recycling capabilities requirements. On the side of bioplastics from renewable sources, the inception of Green Polyethylene by Braskem in Brazil using sugarcane ethanol is a cradle-to-gate solution which still relies in waste separation and recycling to be fully sustainable. Our researchhas many unanswered ques- tions which lie on public perception and awareness of com- postable plastics benefits over regular plastics, recycling issues and last, but not least importantly the current status of waste management of compostable bioplastics, such as PLA, PHB and Thermoplastic Starch blends. The present paper is mostly- intended to discuss the inherent complexities associated with each class of plastic product based upon their polymer chem- istry and chemical additives in the formulation in an attempt to forward waste mitigation approaches and at same time re- viewnew technology pathways based on waste-to-energy and recovery of polymer basic constituents and monomers by pu- rification and depolimerization6. Furthermore the crossroads faced by renewable sources and compostablve solutions needs tremendous investment in environmental education once they cannot solve the problem of waste without an investment strat- egy. Our focus is to highlight the urgent issues and outline short to long term solutions to cope with the complexity of pub- lic understanding with a system approach involving all parties, including getting retail suppliers in the process.

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