by Michael F. Perera
Valuable resources are extracted every day to develop practical products such as bottles, containers and more. As the extraction of pristine resources rapidly depletes their availability, it is high time that a sustainable alternative be sought, to ensure the longevity and viability of future generations.
With the rising prices of virgin materials, the alternative – recyclable waste – is staring us from the side of roads, canals and landfills. If we collect and recycle plastic bottle waste around our island, the need to import around 1000 to 1300 tons of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) each month would significantly reduce and also help boost the environment and the economy.
Sixty percent of the monthly PET plastic in Sri Lanka circulates in the Western Province. Unless steps are taken to effectively collect and dispose of plastic waste, the obligation to import plastic will continue to increase, and the potential for a resilient circular economy and improved livelihoods in the food industry. recycling will eventually disappear.
Bottle to bottle: a better solution?
One of the simplest solutions is to bring the plastic back into the system and recycle it to produce a bottle again. But this is hardly a reality. Why? Sri Lanka does not legally allow recycled content in food grade manufacturing.
According to the extraordinary notification of the Gazette n ° 1160/30 of June 29, 2010, “any food contained in a package, device, container or receptacle made from recycled plastic” is prohibited. Thus, there are concerns about using recycled plastic in food grade packaging in terms of quality and impact on the health of the end consumer.
However, countries around the world are embracing this concept, committing to world-class standards and implementing the bottle-to-bottle concept to effectively reduce plastic waste pollution, while giving back to their economy and to local communities. Developed and developing economies such as the United States, Canada, Europe, Brazil, Bangladesh, and Nigeria allow recycled PET in food-grade packaging, reducing the use of virgin resin in manufacturing. manufacturing.
For example, the level of recycling of PET bottles in Japan is one of the highest in the world, and this was made possible by the Container and Packaging Recycling Act (1995) which was implemented for promote the separate collection and recycling of containers and packaging waste. . The Japanese government designates three types of recycling processes; Material, chemical and thermal recycling. PET plastics fall under the “Material” category, in which PET bottles are turned into new PET products.
In Indonesia, Coca-Cola plans to set up a new recycling facility, which will help eliminate the use of virgin plastic. The facility will house a bottle-to-bottle grade PET recycling facility where the use of recycled plastic could reduce the amount of new plastic resin used by the company by approximately 25,000 tonnes per year. Through this venture, Coca-Cola hopes to play a vital role in supporting the problem of plastic waste management in Indonesia, while also creating an impact on the country’s circular economy.
Moreover, in obvious efforts to save currency and successfully fight the pollution war, the bottle-to-bottle concept is being approved in many countries. The case in Sri Lanka should be no different. As this concept is also approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Lankan authorities are expected to do the same and save precious foreign exchange by converting waste PET back into bottles. Currently, Sri Lanka spends up to USD 1,550 per tonne per month on foreign exchange reserves for the import of PET plastic, where approximately 1,000 to 1,300 tonnes of PET are imported per month.
In addition, recycling of PET bottles to their original form can be done over 7-8 times, the process being much more affordable and less harmful to the environment, as PET plastics produce three times less CO2. in production versus an alternative material such as glass.
Using modern and advanced machinery in the recycling process, the intrinsic viscosity (IV) level, which is the strength of a bottle, will not only be kept stable, but will also increase.
So, if the underlying benefits are clear and extremely beneficial to all Sri Lankans, why has this concept not been implemented?
Waste management: a stronger reform
From a holistic perspective, one of the biggest problems with Sri Lanka’s waste management system is the poor implementation of proper waste collection. From rural households, to the urban west, to authoritative bodies in the country, the responsibility for segregating and disposing of plastic waste appropriately needs to be brainwashed.
In principle, each household should ideally have four separate designated bins to collect organic waste, paper waste, glass and metal waste, and plastic waste. This way, collectors can collect the least contaminated plastics and hand them over to recyclers.
In Japan, households are encouraged to sort their waste at home as they are given specific containers for PET bottles, PS foam containers and PP bottle caps separately, instead of mixing them with other plastics. . They are further encouraged to use separate disposal methods such as the PET bottle shredders provided in supermarkets to allow consumers to dispose of their used PET bottles, after which they can collect store credits or vouchers. purchase tokens. Japan’s impressive plastic recycling rate is due to its local governments’ sorting rules, which are among the strictest in the world.
In Sri Lanka, most people look to the government to solve this problem, but the truth is, the infrastructure and practices in place are outdated and inefficient. Essentially, local government policy decisions in the areas of waste management and recycling have been extreme, often neglecting the long-term economic and environmental benefits that could be harnessed, in favor of a ban on the easy fix. “.
Local authorities are also a key stakeholder in ensuring an appropriate and efficient waste sorting and management system. Their support for raising awareness and imposing strict rules and penalties to maintain adequate waste segregation will not only strengthen the local recycling industry, but also reflect the fact that people now want to recycle, but the problem prevails in collection efforts.
Therefore, it is essential that local communities and the government take a strong stand in handling the country’s waste management issue, as the long-term economic and environmental benefits definitely outweigh the complications and problems. created by neglecting the concerns of the local waste management and recycling sector, or simply throwing the problem under the rug with another ‘ban’. It is essential that waste management efforts are strengthened so that plastic waste makes its way into the recycling economy. A simple solution to the plastic waste problem is also to put the plastic back into the system. However, this is currently banned in the country as it was released as mentioned above. Allowing the use of recycled materials in food grade packaging will further increase the demand for plastic recycling, a key priority in our island nation.
(The author is the chairman of CMC Engineering Export GmbH, a member of the Melchers group, engaged in importing a wide range of technical products from quality suppliers in Europe and Asia, and is also a former chairman of the Packaging Institute)