The problem with plastic waste

Single use plastic waste

One of the strengths of plastic – its durability – has also turned out to be one of its most significant downsides. In a world based on consumerism and replacement, products that last for a very long time are only going to pile up. Single-use plastics arguably pose the biggest challenge of all. So, what happens to all that plasticonce it has been discarded? Doesn’t it all get recycled already?

Not Necessarily. Human industry has created around 6.3 billion metric tons of plastic waste in the last 70 years. Of that, only about 9% has been recycled. The rest has either been incinerated (12%) or is in landfills or the natural environment (79%) – Greenpeace estimates that up to 12.7 million metric tons of plastic annually end up in our oceans.

If you’re wondering what happens to the plastic waste you dutifully separate for recycling, you might be surprised to know it’s probably better traveled than you are. For around a quarter of a century, before the implementation of “Operation National Sword” in 2018, China was the world’s primary importer of plastic waste. National Sword was effectively a ban on a range of foreign recyclable waste products, leaving countries worldwide scrabbling for new markets.

Most worldwide plastic waste now goes to countries including Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam. In 2018, the United States exported the equivalent of 68,000 shipping containers full of plastic waste. For better or worse, a lack of existing national infrastructure aimed at supporting plastics recycling means it is simply easier to export it.

A two-pronged approach to dealing with the issue seems not only sensible but essential. On the one hand, we need to improve and increase recycling facilities, and on the other, we need to reduce – drastically – our reliance on single-use plastic products.

Finally, waste-to-energy initiatives must play their part. They are a means of converting urban waste to energy, and so hit two birds with one stone. Clean Energy Enterprises’ own BT Advanced Gasificationtechnology offers a flexible approach to waste management that equals clean energy with virtually zero emissions. Contact ustoday to learn more.

Waste to energy – a clean solution to a growing problem

Waste to Energy, W2E

The sprawling city of Shenzhen in northern China has a population of over 20 million people and creates around 15,000 metric tons of waste every day. No surprise, perhaps, that it’s the site of what will be, when it’s operational, the world’s largest waste-to-energy plantto date.

Waste-to-energy technology turns urban waste into fuel. Incineration of waste products generates heat, which is used to drive a turbine and so generate electricity. While it’s true that the process of incineration causes CO2 emissions, the architects of the Shenzhen East Waste-to-Energy Plant claim this occurs at just half the level of an average landfill site.

The enormous plant is built in an innovative circular design and utilizes advanced waste incineration and power generation technology. When operational, in 2020, it will be able to process 5,000 metric tons of waste per day and – as a by-product – is expected to generate 50 million kWh of electricity per year. It is a clean solution to a growing problem.

The plant will have a secondary function as a place of education. Entry will be via a landscaped park that leads to a visitors’ center, giving an overview of the machinery. A guided tour via a circular walkway will explain each process, and ultimately lead up to the roof, from where a spectacular view of the city and the surrounding landscape can be enjoyed.

World Bank figures indicate that China generates more waste than any other country, but many countries worldwide are having to tackle similar challenges. UN predictions put the world’s population at 9.8 billion people by 2050, and so technology that efficiently removes urban waste while generating energy – such as our own BT Advanced Gasification solution– can be desirable to investors. Interest in such technologies is growing, and the World Energy Council estimates that the global market will be worth in the region of $40 billion by 2023.