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Environmental Aspects of Plastics. Introduction. Plastics & paper- common materials in everyday life, often used in disposable applications – major contributor for solid waste Plastics due to their long life- when not disposed properly, they are widely seen and often criticized.

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  • Plastics & paper- common materials in everyday life, often used in disposable applications – major contributor for solid waste
  • Plastics due to their long life- when not disposed properly, they are widely seen and often criticized
source reduction
Source Reduction
  • Refer to a reduction in the amount of material used in any application
  • The simplest methods is to emply source reduction are
    • to use fewer products that cause waste
    • to choose size and types of products where by waste is minimized
    • To reduce the material requirements of the product (for manufacturer)
source reduction4
Source Reduction
  • For example;
    • The amount of packaging material in 1 liter drink bottle is 40% less than material in 0.5 liter drink bottle (larger size are more efficient in using materials)
    • Decrease the thickness of materials in application
      • PE Trash bag (when it was first introduced)- thickness 0.08 mm
      • LDPE introduced – thickness of trash bag is 0.05 mm
      • LLDPE (stronger and tougher material) – thickness is 0.025 mm
      • HDPE – thickness of 0.017 is available now
Plastics have a weight & volume over many other packaging materials
  • Germany Society for Research for Packaging Market estimates without plastics, the cost of packaging would be double and the volume of packaging would increase by 250%
The use of plastic packaging raises 3 problem;
    • Recycling of plastics
    • Resistance of most plastics to most form of natural degradation
    • Potential harmfull off-gases when plastics are incinerated
recycling of plastics
Recycling of Plastics
  • Refers to the reprocessing and refabrication of a material by a consumer or disposal of solid waste
  • This type of recycle is called postconsumer recycle (PCR)- different with recycle (generally called regrind) of the scrap from manufacturing process
recycling of plastics8
Recycling of Plastics
  • Reprocessing and refabrication of PCR involves several steps;
    • Collection
    • Handling/sorting
    • Reclamation/sorting
    • End-use fabrication
  • Voluntary recycling by the consumer is the most single factor in improving recycling of all materials
  • However, consumers do not sort their solid waste but rather mix all materials together
  • For many plastics, the cost of virgin plastics is about the same as the cost involve in recycling- create problem in recycling process (different case with recycling of aluminium cans)
handling sorting
Handling & Sorting
  • Involves conveying materials from the pickup point (from consumer house) to the reclamation facility
  • Sorting of materials is necessary (PET bottle, HDPE waste, aluminium alloy, etc) or in broader material groupings (all metal, all plastics, etc)
  • For the highest economy benefit, the HDPE and PET and other recyclable plastics must be separated from the plastics that are not to be recycle- thus considerable labour is required to pick up the recyclables by hand
handling sorting12
Handling & Sorting
  • Some sorting can be done by machine, i.e. based on certain characteristics (light absorption), various plastic resins can be distinguish from the other
  • Under certain condition, the mixture of several plastic type can be recycled, called as mixed recycled or comingled recycle
  • To assist consumers and sorters, Society for plastic Industry (SPI) introduced recycling symbols

The coextruded plastics (more than 1 layers of plastics)….how to recycle???

reclamation cleaning
  • After sorted, the plastics must be chopped into small flake or shredded for further process
  • Then the flakes are treated with solvents and wash to remove residual contaminants (original content & paper label)
  • The flake send to the fabricators to extrude into pellets
end uses sorted pcr
End Uses- Sorted PCR
  • The recycled material can be used in the same applications or other applications
  • However, PCR plastic cannot be used in in medical and food-contacting applications due to danger of contamination and desease
  • Thermoplastic- can be reheated and reprocessed many times (with minor changes in resin properties)
end uses comingled pcr
End Uses- Comingled PCR
  • They cannot be recycled back into their original product because they usually come from different products
  • The most common product is plastic wood
Applications: home fence, park bence and table, gazebo, etc
  • Process (twin screw extruder & ram injection molding): processing the commingled PCR together at a sufficient temp (to melt the majority flakes)
  • Advantages of Plastic wood
    • Absence of the highly toxic antifungi that normally applied to wood
    • Wood normally decay and need maintenance

Problem with plastic wood; the dissimilar hygroscopic characteristics of some components cause different water absorption & dimensional change (control the source stream, where the hygroscopic material should not mixed with hydrophobic materials), the cost of plastic wood is higher than untreated lumber.

  • Means that the plastic can break down into smaller molecules by natural means, biological agent or by sunlight
  • In reality, some materials degrade very slowly
  • Some applications require that the material not degrade, i.e. packaging material
  • Some applications need degradable properties, i.e. sutures in medical applications
  • Popular since they are less expansive than other method of waste disposal
  • The rubbish is simply buried in the ground
  • Careful control of the landfill process is required to protect the site and its surrounding from problems like odor, fire, seepage from contaminating groundwater, etc.
  • Problem with landfill, the limited space of the landfill, thus alternatives for disposal of waste are needed
From the following data, the largest component of waste is paper product (34.1% by weight), followed by plastics (19.9%)

Example of materials in solid waste landfills by (a) volume and (b) weight

(in recent year)

  • Incineration or controlled burning is another option for disposing of large percent of solid waste
  • The most common purpose of burning is to generate electricity

Energy content of various solid waste materials and conventional

fuels burned to generate electricity


Incineration can destroy some types of chemicals that other methods can't.

It is also quicker than many other methods.

obstacles of recycling
Obstacles of Recycling
  • Usage of various copolymer blends (i.e. PET) from different manufacturers do not dissolve into one another when heated. Instead, they tend to phase-separate, like oil and water.
  • Another barrier to recycling is the widespread use of dyes, fillers, and other additives in plastics. The polymer is generally too viscous to economically remove fillers, and would be damaged by many of the processes that could cheaply remove the added dyes. Additives are less widely used in beverage containers and plastic bags, allowing them to be recycled more frequently.