Waste processing consultancy Axion Consulting has predicted that the large-scale incineration or dumping of plastic films in landfills may soon be replaced by converting them into fuels and other useful products.
The recycling of plastic films is still in the early stages of development due to difficulties and economic factors. By contrast, dense rigid plastics including polyethylene terephthalate (PET) that are used in the drinks sector are currently recycled widely.
Policies such as charges on single-use plastic bags have been introduced to adopt alternative solutions in an effort to minimise the impact of plastic films and plastic bags on the environment.
However, according to Axion Consulting it is technically and economically possible to convert low grade plastic films into fuels and other recycled products.
Axion Consulting senior engineer Sam Haig said that recycled films can be used for products such as refuse sacks and retail signs.
"A new generation of machinery uses a flow of air to help detect and remove around 95% of films from co-mingled kerbside waste collections. The process is likely to be more economical and efficient than current machine-based and hand-picking operations," he said.
"Our analysis also suggests that it is now economically viable to convert low grade plastics into fuel. We studied five chemical engineering processes and concluded that three: fast pyrolysis; depolymerisation; and gasification with biological treatment provided significant financial returns over a ten year period."
Image: Recycling of plastic films is still in the early stages of development. Photo: courtesy of Institution of Chemical Engineers.