Plastic has become, in a short time, a real global scourge. A source of pollution of all ecosystems. Its production is exponential. The World Bank forecasts a 70% increase in global production by 2050 if nothing is done. It degrades the soil, suffocates the oceans and contaminates the air. He is the No. 1 public enemy to be defeated. Awareness is general. All over the world, countries are implementing environmental policies in order to reduce and rationalize its use. But the task is complex. Studies have shown that since 2015, more than 6 billion tonnes of plastic waste has been produced. About 9% has been recycled, 12% has been incinerated, and 79% end up in the open in landfills or in nature.
In the light of these data, governments have decided to legislate by force.
In France, for example, it was decided to reduce single-use plastic packaging by 20% by 2025, 100% of single-use plastic packaging deemed "unnecessary" (plastic blisters around batteries or bulbs for example ) by 2025 and to increase their recycling to 100%. Will 2040 still mark the end of single-use plastic packaging as initially provided for in the law?
In Germany, the Packaging Act (Verpackungsgesetz) has entered into force. Its objective is to increase the recycling rate and reduce packaging waste. By 2022, the German legislator has set a recycling rate of 63%. It is only 36% now.
All the countries of the European Union have adopted more or less the same policies, at application speeds which may differ from one country to another.
Outside the common market, we can note some similar steps as in the United States where certain states, New Jersey, California, New York or Hawaii, have adopted since 2020 the ban on single-use plastic bags. Japan, the world's second largest producer of plastic packaging waste (in kg / capita), behind the United States, has adopted a " Strategy for recycling plastic resources" which aims to reduce single-use plastic waste by 25%. 'by 2030, and to recycle or reuse “effectively”, namely for energy production, all of this waste by 2035. It also provides for the obligation to restrict the trade of dirty plastic waste that cannot be recycled to from 2021.
As we will have understood, everywhere in the world, the collection, sorting and recycling of plastic are now major ecological issues. Public but also industrial authorities are hard at work to find the best solutions.
Innovation is the watchword in a sector which, in light of global data, augurs very promising economic prospects and significant profits. The recycling of plastics and their integration into new products have thus become essential as part of the transition to a circular economy. The possibilities for reuse are so wide (medical sector, clothing, technology, construction, transport, among others), that they can only encourage the policy of the three Rs: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.
This is why it is essential to recover the plastic used and to optimize its value, including at the end of its life. And that's where science comes in. What better means than scientific principles and new technologies to understand the full value of plastics and provide them with judicious outlets?
Plastic recycling takes place in 6 main stages:
- 1 /: collecting plastics
It necessarily involves the citizen gesture
- 2 /: sorting
This step is complex and essential in order to obtain a very high quality recycled plastic. Plastics are made up of different chemical elements. It is therefore advisable, at this stage of the transformation, to group them together by family:
- Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) used in the manufacture of water bottles, soft drinks, food bottles or cooking oils;
- High density polyethylene (HDPE) used in the manufacture of milk bottles, yoghurt pots, plastic bags or cereal bags;
- Polystyrene (PS) used in the manufacture of CD cases, disposable plates and cups or boxes for eggs;
- Polypropylene (PP) used to make pill bottles, bottle lids or ketchup jars.
- 3 /: grinding and cleaning
- 4 /: drying
- 5 /: homogenization
At this stage, the plastic is in its pure state and will be reworked using other technological processes according to the specifications of the various customers for whom the recycled plastic is intended.
- 6 /: obtaining the granules
Once the fifth step is completed, a homogeneous paste is obtained which will be transformed by an extruder. The monofilament or son thus obtained cool on contact with air and water. They will be cut into small grains to provide what are called granules ready to be used in the manufacture of new objects. “The granules resulting from polyethylene terephthalate or PET will be used, for example, in the manufacture of fleece clothing, shopping bags, furniture, cans for drinks or carpets; those made from high density polyethylene will be used in the making of yoghurt pots, pens or construction materials and those made from vinyl or PVC can be used in the manufacture of packaging for detergents, piping or medical equipment. It is important to know that plastic is not recyclable for life. After a number of recycling cycles, the plastic is incinerated like glass. "
A recent promising scientific process has appeared in the delicate stage of sorting: artificial intelligence.
This future-proof solution, already adopted by certain countries such as the United States, Japan, China, Norway but also France thanks to major players in the sector in collaboration with many start-ups, uses detection algorithms. very thorough in order to analyze, understand and differentiate the different asperities, irregularities and properties of plastic. Is it dirty, made of metal, mixed with paper, in poor condition? Ultimately, it should even be able to precisely categorize the waste in their bins.
This young technology is developing and paves the way for increasingly sophisticated, precise and efficient processes. Above all, it should make it possible to speed up the recycling process and thus increase the volumes of recycled plastic. Refining sorting is undoubtedly significantly increasing processing volumes.
Considered a pioneer, the American company AMP Robotics, founded in 2015 in Colorado, is particularly effective in its automatic waste management solutions. She developed Cortex, an autonomous robotic handling system capable of sorting materials with 99% accuracy using Neuro. This artificial intelligence software uses computer vision to distinguish the different characteristics of the products to be sorted. AMP Robotics explains that “a three-arm machine installed on the recovery center conveyor belt is held in place by a steel frame. Thanks to an industrial camera coupled with Neuro software, the robot sorts objects very precisely while adapting to the design of packaging and changes in lighting. "
In the end, we can see that the quantities of plastic to be recycled will not stop growing in the years to come. At the same time, we are going to witness the creation of ever more efficient processes thanks to the research carried out by all these young companies around the world. This is a great thing. We can only congratulate and encourage them. The more plastic we can recycle, the more we will conserve natural resources and the less we will need to use raw materials. We will all come out winners.
Indeed, why always manufacture more with new resources when we can obtain the same quality from recycling?