Is The World Entering A Recycled Plastic Shortage? If So, Why?
Over the last decade, the push for people and companies to become more sustainable has been at the forefront of conversation. Recycling plastic waste has been the easiest opportunity for anyone to start becoming more sustainable. This is why there is such wide adoption and awareness of recycling practices across the world.
There are two main categories of recycled plastic, post consumer and post industrial.
Post industrial resin is plastic waste from the manufacturing process that is collected at the moment of discarding and sent to recycling. Almost all recycled plastic is Industrial plastic waste from manufacturing. Due to the fees associated with dumping plastic waste, there is an incentive to recycle and reuse as much as possible.
Post consumer resin is plastic waste from everyday products like coffee, packaging, and consumer goods. Almost all of this plastic is thrown away in a trash bin, with minimal opportunities for recycling.
How much plastic gets recycled? This is shocking, but according to National Geographic, an astonishing 91% of plastic doesn’t actually get recycled. This means that only around 9% is being recycled, most of that being from industrial applications.
As more companies begin adopting recycled plastic, there will be a growing need for larger supplies of plastic from recyclers. Today, most waste plastic from corporations manufacturing lines is already recycled. This means that new plastic sources will need to come from consumer recycling efforts, or Post Consumer resin.
This is where the problem lies, because humans are notoriously bad at changing habits in general, and they are especially bad at changing habits when the benefit is not of instant gratification.
If consumer behavior is unable to change at the rapid pace of corporate consumption, there will be a major shortage of recycled plastic in the coming years.
Is There Really A Shortage of Recycled Plastic?
In a world where there is more plastic than there are trees, our current recycling efforts don’t cut it. Sustainability has been the buzzword for decades, but it’s time to switch gears and get smart about how we’re going to get out of this mess, today.
In theory, recycling plastic is a great idea. You take a plastic water bottle and turn it into a new bottle, right? But the reality is, the world has reached a point where the demand for recycled plastic is far outstripping our ability to collect, sort, wash, shred, separate, and re-process it. Recycling post consumer resin is very resource intensive.
While these recycling initiatives are making a difference, they are not enough to keep up with the demand.
Because of how resource intensive the recycling process is, it’s oftentimes cheaper to just make new plastic. This type of reverse incentive makes using virgin plastic more economically favorable than using recycled plastic.
The Impact of the Recycled Plastic Shortage on Society
We are running out of recycled plastics because of two reasons, first is supply and second is consumer behavior.
Supply-wise, there is a problem with the PP and PE recycling plants all over the world. They are running out of raw materials because people are throwing away less plastics than ever before.
Another factor that contributes to this shortage is the lack of clean recyclable plastics in circulation. Clean recyclables are just that, plastic containers that have been rinsed thoroughly before they get thrown into the bins. Cleaning individual dirty containers is a nightmare for recyclers because it adds more labor, equipment, and overall costs.
Consumer behavior-wise, people just don’t know how important recycling is anymore – they just throw it away without thinking twice about it. If consumers knew that by tossing their recyclables in trash cans, they are potentially depriving future generations from plastic products, then this planet would be a much better place!
The recycling industry has also been suffering from a shortage of recycled plastic due to the increased demand for used plastics globally. This has put pressure on the recycling industry, and they are simply not able to supply enough material. This is a new problem that needs an innovative solution quickly. This lack of supply of recycled plastic can lead to wasted resources and higher prices.
It is estimated that by 2050, there will be more plastic than fish in our oceans. The effects of this are already being seen on the health of humans and animals alike. There are many companies that have created products with recycled plastics in mind, however it seems these efforts are not achieving the desired impact.
This is a huge problem, and we need to either find ways to recycle more plastics in order to reduce this shortage, and/or find better, more bio-friendly ways to engineer plastics in the first place.
How to Prepare for the Recycled Plastic Shortage?
The looming global shortage of recycled plastic is a serious issue, and it will only get worse as demand for plastics continues to increase.
The recycling system that we rely on today is not equipped to handle the rapid pace of global plastic production. We can’t always depend on developing countries like India, Indonesia, and Vietnam coming onboard with recycling programs. Their economic volatility often makes it difficult to justify the investment in such programs. So, this revolution will have to start locally and expand globally.
There are three key areas we should focus on:
- Building up our recycling infrastructure and capacity.
- Reducing our dependence on single use plastics.
- Leveraging bio-based additives and fillers in plastics.
Numbers one and two are essentially expanding the current solutions that are in place today.
Number three may be the best long-term choice as there is still a finite amount of recycled plastic available on the market. New, reliable supply chains of bio-based materials are certainly the future of plastics.
Do We Need More Solutions Such As Bio-based Plastics?
The short answer is an emphatic – YES! Bio-based plastics are the organic equivalent of traditional plastics. They are made with renewable, sustainable materials such as hemp, corn, or soybeans.
These materials can be easily grown and harvested, meaning they do not require any form of mining or drilling to procure them. Simply grow and harvest!
Pure polymers completely made from biomaterials are available, but the technology is not quite there to replace our established plastics materials.
Two of the reasons why bio-based plastics can’t replace traditional plastics today is because of price and supply. One large American manufacturer would take up all the bio-plastic in the country with their first purchase order.
However, we can also use these bio-based materials as plastic additives to extend the supply of existing plastic. Hemp, specifically, can replace the mined and synthetic additives without compromising strength, weight, or price.
This is the breakthrough the manufacturing sector needs in order to start reducing their carbon footprint, and extend their supply of recycled resin. Replacing the toxic additives with bio-based additives is a great first step on the path toward a sustainable future. We are strong proponents of hemp as it can be grown very quickly, with it can be grown with fewer resources, and has a 10,000 year history of being the strongest natural fiber on earth.
The Bio-Based Additives Opportunity
Bio-based additives offer a sustainable solution to the growing chemical and plastic industry. They’re made from renewable resources that are abundantly available. The market is expected to grow significantly in the coming years as consumers become increasingly aware of the dangers of chemicals and plastics.
Biotechnologies are key to the future development of sustainable products in all sectors, but, most importantly, in plastics manufacturing.
Biotechnological innovation is needed to replace fossil-fuel based plastic materials with bio-based ones which are more environmentally friendly, biodegradable, and recyclable. Current research work is aimed at finding out more ways to use these bio-based materials as additives for plastics.
The bio-based materials that are most widely studied for usage as additives in plastics manufacturing are plant oils, cellulose-derived, and lignin-derived polymers.
In general, these plastic additives can be classified into two categories – those that improve quality of the final product and those that reduce cost of the process (or improve production rates). It’s been proven that hemp additives can broach both areas. Hemp has the same, if not better mechanical properties (lower weight, more strength) vs. the traditional plastic additives.
Sustainability without Compromise
The court of public opinion is going through a major shift in the way humans should look at sustainability. The world’s largest economic actors are starting to get on board with this idea of sustainable business practices.
In fact, these companies are even trying to outcompete each other when it comes to ESG programs, which is a great sign for the future of our planet.
To make sure that there is a balance between economic growth and environmental protection, businesses need to not only focus on the bettering the environment but also reducing their negative impact on it. This can be done by setting sustainability mandates and making sure that there. is corporate governance to ensure compliance with these standards.
People are becoming more and more aware of the environmental damage caused by plastic. The use of recycled plastics is a way to help alleviate some of this burden. But, the use of bio-based materials as additives has the potential to reshape all plastics, forever.
When we choose to use recycled plastics, we end up using less oil and water in manufacturing and taking what was waste and putting it back into the economy.
Recycled plastic is a great choice for the environment as it eliminates the need for new plastic production. Hemp additives allow companies that use large amounts of recycled resin to extend their supply. Better recycling and bio-based plastic additives might give us the one-two punch we need to solve this problem!
Join us in making a world out of hemp.