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14.3.2022

COMPLEX CHALLENGE: REDUCING GLOBAL PLASTIC WASTE

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It’s hard to imagine a world without plastics – a unique material that plays a critical role in maintaining food quality, health, and safety. Plastics are not only convenient and cheap to produce but also embedded in cross-continental production, distribution, and trade.

On the flip side: 8 million tons of plastics end up in our oceans every year and 50 percent of annual production is single-use plastics.

“Marine littering”, i.e. the pollution of the world’s oceans, rivers, and lakes, endangers the organisms living in them and is one of the greatest challenges for our global society. An estimated 150 million tons of plastic are already in our oceans, and more than 10 million tons are added each year.

Up to 80 percent of marine litter originates on land, about three-quarters of which are made of plastic. If pollution continues at the current rate, the seas will be completely littered in a few years. According to recent UN studies, by 2050, more plastic parts than fish are expected to swim in our seas.

Photo by Naja Bertolt Jensen on Unsplash

What can we do? React to the symptoms: build more landfills, bring in segregation bins, invest in recycling? Or we can go further and start challenging the current take-make-waste model by designing out waste and pollution, keeping products in use, and seeking to regenerate natural systems – all the key elements of a circular economy.

The world is waking up to the problem, and governments are starting to act. There are several things that governments can do — from running public awareness campaigns to offering incentives for recycling, to introducing levies or even banning certain products outright. In the last decade, dozens of national and local governments around the world have adopted policies to reduce the use of disposable plastic. And the number continues to grow. Africa stands out as the continent where most countries have adopted a total ban on the production and use of plastic bags.

 

Photo by Nareeta Martin on Unsplash

One thing is clear: there is no single solution that can tackle this complex challenge. The path forward will require integrated solutions that address entire systems of connected economic, social, and environmental aspects. Sustainable responses could include R&D on alternative materials, a shift in consumption patterns and mindsets, reforms in waste management, new technologies for recycling, and ultimately new growth models.

We need to slow the flow of plastic at its source, but we also need to improve the way we manage our plastic waste and how to reuse it. Here are some innovative technologies for recycling plastic waste.

The SeeElefant

The SeeElefant is a marine litter cleanup project developed by environmental organization One Earth – One Ocean eV. 

Photo: https://oneearth-oneocean.com

The SeeElefant is a multi-purpose ship converted into a recycling and energy vessel that will be stationed at sea. The SeeElefant will have market-proven plant technology for sorting, crushing, and processing marine litter on board. The entire plant technology of the SeeElefanten was designed in a standard container grid. This modular design makes the system scalable and can be flexibly adapted to the conditions at the site of use.

The plastic is sorted, pressed into plastic bales, and recycled on land. In a later phase e, plastic waste will also be able to be oiled directly on board. The oil extracted from plastic waste is stored in the tanks of the ship. According to calculations by One Earth – One Ocean e.V., two employees can collect about 200 tons of plastic waste per day.

You can watch the film about the SeeElephant here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zwlOdg3GM0A

Biofabrik’s modular WASTX Plastic

Photo: https://biofabrik.com/

WASTX Plastic technology transforms plastic waste into recycling oil – which gets back into the raw material cycle as a basis for recycled plastics. This turns problematic waste into a valuable raw material. A problematic waste material becomes a valuable product. This is a continuous technology, yet a small and compact machine that can be installed anywhere, anytime. WASTX Plastic is an alternative solution for plastic waste.

Sources: www.sdgintegration.undp.org, www.oneearth-oneocean.com, www.sdgintegration.undp.org, www.globalplasticaction.org, www.eia-international.org, www.unep.org

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