Recycling von Kunststoffen: So viel Plastik wird wirklich recycelt

Plastic recycling: So much plastic is really recycled

Plastic is a versatile material that has many advantages. It is robust and flexible at the same time and can be made into any shape, color and degree of hardness. Due to its practical properties, it is now indispensable in our everyday life and in our industry.

But above all, the disadvantages of plastic are increasingly being felt by our environment: the longevity of this product. In addition, it consists of up to 90% of a fossil, finite raw material, namely crude oil. This first has to be obtained at great expense, for example through deep drilling or the heavily criticized fracking.

Once the plastic has been produced, it becomes our undoing. Because plastic products are not that easy to break down. A PET bottle takes up to 450 years to dissolve. Although "dissolve" is not quite correct here, it breaks down into smaller and smaller plastic particles - microplastics - which threatens our seas and (marine) creatures. On average, a plastic bag is only used for 20 minutes before it is thrown away. Every year we Germans use around 2 billion plastic bags. Overall, in Germany we consume the most packaging waste in Europe!

But that's why we recycle so much! Or?

Recycling is a good thing in and of itself! Plastic products can thus be reused and do not have to be incinerated, nor do they end up in landfills abroad. In this way, plastic that has already been used can be converted into a plastic recyclate through various processing processes, from which new plastic is made. So no new oil is required for new products, but resources that have already been used can be reused.

If only it were that easy... Because there are quite a few hurdles in this process.

The first problem : not everything that ends up in the yellow bin belongs there. Every day things are disposed of incorrectly. Only about a third of the packaging that belongs in the yellow bag ends up there. And around 40-50% of the products that end up in the yellow bag don't belong there!

Our tip: Find out about the right ones waste sorting and thus avoid the so-called impurities in your yellow bag.

We'll come to that Problem number two . Once the yellow bins have been emptied and arrived at the recycling factory, the extraneous materials have to be sorted out in a complex process. In addition, the different types of plastic must also be sorted and separated according to their recyclability.

Because a lot of plastic products are made of different plastics. For example, the classic yoghurt cup consists of an aluminum lid and a plastic cup. As long as these two things are not thrown away separately, the plastic cup cannot be recycled and will be sorted out by the machine and thus incinerated. Black plastic products cannot be recycled either, as the laser cannot detect these products due to their color.

The various materials are separated from one another with the aid of eddy current separators, magnets, near-infrared separators and scanners, and sometimes by hand. After the plastics have been separated according to type, they are washed and shredded. Then they are processed into a granulate called recyclate, from which new plastic can be obtained. Since only single-origin fabrics can be recycled, only 58% of our yellow bin can be recycled at all.

The manufacturers of plastic products who combine different plastic thicknesses in one film result in mixing ratios that are no longer recyclable and thus make a significant contribution to the fact that so much waste is left over in the end.

Recycled and then?

If we now follow the path of recycled plastic, it quickly becomes clear that there are further difficulties there. Recyclate is twice as expensive to produce as new petroleum-based plastic. Due to the Corona crisis, the price of oil has dropped significantly again, creating even less incentive to use recyclates instead of new plastic. Recently, some systems had to be shut down completely, while others only continue to work at low output. Recycled plastic saves up to 50% of the greenhouse emissions generated by new plastic. Due to the complex extraction process, however, the recyclate is twice as much as conventional PET plastic if the companies work to cover their costs. You pay €600-700 for a ton of PET and €1,200-1,500 for a ton of recyclate. Conversely, this means: 58% was recycled in 2020, but in the end the factories are left with their products because the companies fall back on the cheaper version.

Another problem is that recyclates are not suitable for all products. After the first and often single use, the plastic product loses 90% of its value. They are considered low-quality plastic and cannot be used for packaging that comes into contact with food, such as cheese or sausage packaging. For products such as detergents and the like. however, they are good.

Our tip: To all consumers, when shopping, make sure that you buy products made from recycled or recyclable plastic. Targeted avoidance of black plastic products. And separates different plastic thicknesses from each other (yoghurt cups and lids, etc.).

Thermal utilization

But what happens to the garbage that cannot be recycled? It is incinerated, known in technical jargon as “thermal recycling”. However, when rubbish is incinerated, it also means wasting two-thirds of the energy that could be achieved if the packaging were recyclable.

There are now two options. Firstly, the classic waste incineration plants that have the appropriate filters for the exhaust gases. Unfortunately, the plastic waste is often sold to energy-intensive companies such as cement works, which reduce their energy costs as a result. The consequence of this is that the lack of exhaust systems causes enormous environmental pollution.

No matter where it is burned, residues remain. Ash and gases that are environmentally harmful to toxic. These have to go somewhere! So many companies dump them in old salt mines, deep underground. The saline environment is intended to prevent the toxic substances from escaping from the deposits and getting into the ground. However, this cannot be guaranteed 100%. Nevertheless, up to 40 truckloads of around 1000 tons each end up there every day.

On the one hand, the incineration of plastic waste can be used as a source of energy, on the other hand, toxic ash and gases remain, which in turn have to be disposed of. This again shows the biggest problem with plastic products: we can't really get rid of the garbage.

garbage export

Despite these possibilities, there are still around one million tons of plastic waste that are exported abroad every year. Germany simply produces too much waste, in 2018 it was 417.2 million tons of waste. Since there is not enough capacity to process this plastic waste, it is sold abroad - and with it the problems it would cause us here.

After all, the rubbish still exists in the countries of arrival and causes major ecological and social problems there. Illegal garbage containers with mixed ratios regularly end up in the countries that cannot be recycled there. Overall, sometimes only around 10% of waste abroad can actually be recycled. The rest is incinerated or landfilled under low environmental standards and controls, ending up in rivers and seas. Nevertheless, every ton that goes abroad with the intention of being recycled there is included in our German recycling quota!

The burning of the waste takes place in the open air, which means that strong emissions and pollutants are released into nature unhindered. Not only does the environment suffer, but also the population, as air, soil and water are polluted. People often lose their livelihood or can no longer survive on agriculture alone. As a result, they have to make ends meet as garbage collectors on the landfills and try to fish for recyclables from the garbage and sell them to dealers.

Their health also suffers enormously as the garbage dumps are full of diseases and germs. The big plastic problem not only has a negative impact on the lands and fields, but also on the fisheries. The plastic displaces fish stocks and contaminates entire seas. The affluent waste of the Germans is fatal for the countries and their environment. That is why China imposed a garbage import stop in 2017 and no longer accepts foreign plastic waste. Unfortunately, this has not led to a rethinking and more conscious consumption in our society, but only to the fact that the garbage was distributed to other countries. An extreme problem with the export of waste is that unclean waste consisting of mixed ratios is exported abroad, which is actually forbidden. However, due to poor control options, incorrectly declared rubbish regularly gets into the country and causes immense problems for people because the rubbish cannot be recycled.

Another disadvantage arises from the export of plastic waste, because the cheaper labor abroad means that the recyclate produced there can also be sold more cheaply. This creates a new competition in the price war for cheap recycled plastic.

In addition, the recycling process abroad can only be poorly controlled, which sometimes leads to falsifications and incorrect declarations. This is a setback for German recycling companies. The recycling process is complex and costly, so they can hardly keep up with the competition. But that also means a setback for the recycling rate in Germany. Local factories are forced to shut down operations, and untested recyclates are shipped hundreds of miles to pose as recycled plastic. That's the opposite of sustainable.

And now?

Despite the awareness of the extreme disadvantages of plastic, especially when it comes to mixing ratios, there is only a very slow rethinking. Above all, there should be stricter restrictions and laws on packaging production, waste separation and waste disposal from politics. Unfortunately, there is little attention given to the urgency of this problem.

But what can we do if we don't want to continue to stand idly by?

  • Avoid plastic products as much as possible.
  • correct waste separation!

Ours offers you a suitable alternative to plastic products Store :

Because our #IAMPLASTICFREE bags and straws give you plastic-free alternatives to conventional plastic products without having to forego the advantages of regular plastic bags or straws.

Our bags can be decomposed on the domestic compost within about 90 days and are therefore completely harmless. But our straws can also be easily dismantled due to their ideal life cycle.

Because the drinking straw is made from sustainable and renewable raw materials from the EU, i.e. from biogenic waste. That means NO petroleum! This allows it to be converted into CO2, water and biomass in industrial composting plants. So there are no remains that have to be stored in salt mines deep underground, nor does the drinking straw have to be shipped abroad, where it then causes further problems.

If our products accidentally get into the environment, they decompose and therefore do not cause any problems for nature and wildlife. To see all the advantages of our plastic-free drinking straws again at a glance, just look here after.

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