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What plastic can learn from steel in a circular economy

January 29, 2015

What plastic can learn from steel in a circular economy

Mike Biddle
Thursday 29 January 2015 14.24 GMT

The global plastics industry generates over 280m metric tons in waste every year (pdf). The majority ends up in landfills, incinerators or as marine and land litter.

The US Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 32m tons of plastics waste were generated in 2012, with only about 9% recovered for recycling (collected, sorted, baled and sold). Actual recycling rates are even lower because not everything in the bales is recycled. This is especially true with mixed plastic bales, which are mostly sent to developing countries for “low-cost” recycling.

And this is not just an issue of waste or disposal. These environmental health and safety practices impact workers and local ecosystems. The by-products and waste from these processors are often disposed of in ways that would be considered illegal in the countries where the waste originated, including dumping into “self-cleaning” streams that eventually find their way into oceans.

Following in the footsteps of steel
Plastics are much more valuable by weight than steel, which has an extremely high recycling rate. Interestingly, virgin steel companies often said that steel recycling would never expand beyond “downcycling” – a method of recycling that involves breaking an item down into its component elements or materials – into applications like reinforcing bars. Today, however, the biggest steel companies in the US are based on mini-mills and recycled steel. According to the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI), “steel produced by predominantly scrap-fed electric-arc furnaces accounted for more than 60% of the total raw steel produced in the United States in 2013.”

Read more at The Guardian.

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