Why it’s time to say goodbye to the polluting recycling model

Every year, 10 million tons of plastic packaging reach the oceans, which is equivalent to 23,000 Boeing 747 planes landing in the seas and oceans.

Every year, 10 million tons of plastic packaging reach the oceans, which is equivalent to 23,000 Boeing 747 planes landing in the seas and oceans. Image: Pexels/Mali Maeder

Felipe Cardoso
Chief Executive Officer and Founder, Eco Panplas
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  • Over 90% of used plastic packaging is collected, but just over 1% of it is actually recycled, mainly because the plastic is contaminated.
  • Decontaminating plastic waste using water is expensive and environmentally damaging.
  • A new method that doesn't use water, and that has already seen success in Brazil, could offer a solution.

Every year, 10 million tons of plastic packaging reach the oceans, which is equivalent to 23,000 Boeing 747 planes landing in the seas and oceans – more than 60 per day, according to a study conducted by the WWF.

Brazil, according to data from the World Bank, is the fourth largest producer of plastic waste in the world, with 11.3 million tons, behind only the United States, China and India. Of this total, more than 10.3 million tons were collected (91%), but only 145 thousand tons (1.28%) are effectively recycled, that is, reprocessed in the production chain as a secondary product. This is one of the lowest rates in the survey and well below the global plastic recycling average, which is 9%.

In the end, 7.7 million tons of plastic end up in landfills. And another 2.4 million tons are discarded irregularly, without any kind of treatment, in open-air dumps.


What is the World Economic Forum doing about plastic pollution?

Plastic pollution affects the quality of air, soil and water supply systems. The burning or incineration of plastic can release toxic gases, halogens and nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere, which are extremely harmful to human health. Outdoor disposal also pollutes aquifers, water bodies and reservoirs, causing increased respiratory problems, heart disease and nervous system damage in exposed persons.

The problem with recycling plastics

If 91% of plastics are collected, mainly by municipal governments, why is only 1.28% of them actually recycled?

For plastic waste to be effectively recycled and transformed into a new product, it must first be decontaminated, that is, completely clean. For a long time, around the world that meant decontamination through washing with water. However, for many contaminated plastics, which have a high power of contaminating the environment, this solution is not suitable because it does not efficiently remove the contaminant from the plastic, and still uses thousands of litres of water, and generates effluents and various types of waste, with high environmental risk. Plastic thus loses quality, application and economic value, reducing value throughout the recycling chain, especially for collectors and cooperatives.

Have you read?

Around the world, 35 billion plastic bottles are discarded every year, containing 1 billion litres of residual oil. In Brazil alone, 1 billion of plastic packaging of lubricating oil, containing 2 million litres of residual oil, are discarded annually. And amazingly, 1 litre of oil is capable of contaminating 1 million litres of water.

A practical example: imagine that you get your hands dirty with lubricating oil. Water won’t be enough to get rid of the oil, so you use detergent to remove a little more. However, your hands will still be dirty and the water you used will be contaminated with oil. The detergent you used will also be mixed with the oil, which turns into a dangerous residue. This is what happens in decontamination and recycling with water, only in large proportions, increasing the environmental risk.

Plastic waste contaminated with oil.
Plastic waste contaminated with oil. Image: Eco Panplas

Recycling without water – the Brazilian solution

With that in mind, at Eco Panplas, we have developed a technological solution that decontaminates and recycles these packages in an ecological way: without using water and without generating waste. We have developed an ecological degreaser that separates the packaging from the contaminant, maintaining the characteristics of both. This recovers the degreaser for new use and the contaminant for sale.

This technology was developed in Brazil over six years. It is an automated production line, with high capacity, made up of patented equipment and processes. In this way, all residual oil is recovered and recycled, becoming a by-product and eliminating the environmental risk.

The process also generates an excellent quality recycled plastic raw material, which allows the manufacture of new packaging with 100% recycled material that’s up to 10% cheaper than existing prices, thus creating a true circular economy.

From the 10 million pieces of lubricant oil packaging produced at our production plant in Hortolândia City, São Paulo State, 500 tons of recycled plastic were recovered, which were then sold to make new oil packaging; 17,000 litres of recovered oil was sold for recycling and the production of new lubricating oil, thus generating impactful socio-environmental benefits: 17 billion litres of water preserved, 530 tons of contaminated plastic out of landfills, 800 tons less greenhouse gas emissions and 75% energy savings.

Our work was recognized through 32 national and international awards, such as the IDB, Femsa, the UN Global Compact, Energy Globe and B corps; we have also won international challenges and programmes that confirmed our technique can work in other countries.

Our plan now is to expand our offering in Brazil through higher-capacity production and through a technology licensing system that we also hope to make available internationally.

It is no use for governments and companies to collect plastic waste if it is not then being recycled through an efficient and ecological process that does not generate even more pollution. Only when we have solved this problem that we will we be able to increase recycling rates and, at the same time, generate impactful socio-environmental benefits.

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