The level of environmental awareness is increasing day by day and, as a result, new ideas and innovations are surfacing with the intention of replacing a wide range of commonly-used plastic materials with others that can be recycled easily and/or are biodegradable. However, plastic remains a vital part of daily life and must be recycled because, if it is landfilled, it will drastically affect the environment.
According to the World Bank, more than 270 million tonnes of waste are recycled across the world each year - equivalent to the weight of 740 Empire State buildings.
Even though China’s ban has created a “global crisis in plastic waste”, the country technically still accepts some forms of scrap. However, it has set the bar so high in terms of the cleanliness of the materials that are allowed to be imported that most people in the industry refer to it as a “ban”.
Plastic recycling is still evolving in the Middle East and currently most of the scrap collected is still being sent to China, India and South East Asia for recycling. Lack of source segregation and slowly-growing awareness of the recycling of plastic are key issues, along with the huge investments required to set up recycling facilities as well as limited participation and co-operation from government/non-government entities.
Awareness of plastic recycling in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) region “has to start at the school level” and the formation of a plastic recycling association would help “increase awareness and solve the problems of the industry”, an expert has told Recycling Confex Middle East.
At present, plastic makes up 12-16% of the municipal solid waste stream in the Middle East, and the MENA (Middle East & North Africa) region is responsible for around 8-10% of global plastic production, with a plastic consumption average that is one of the highest in the world. There is an excellent opportunity to set up recycling facilities (of 1000 tonnes-plus capacity) across the Middle East to consume post-consumer bottles for processing in the medium and long term, an expert noted.
He estimated that Saudi Arabia recycles around 10% of its PET bottles, with huge potential to increase the recycling rate to 20% by 2020. The government is poised to invest in infrastructure and create employment, he said, adding that the plastic consumption average is one of the highest in the world at an estimated 40 kg per person per year.
The trend towards increasing use of plastics has become a critical challenge and a reality-check is called for, he also added.
According to statistics from the UAE’s Ministry of Environment and Water, a whopping 11 billion plastic bags are used annually, helping towards annual overall waste of 912.5 kg per capita. These statistics reflect the extent of the use of plastic bags and bottles in the UAE and the consequent generation of plastic waste.
Traders and waste collectors in the GCC region have been affected by the Chinese ban but are still managing to ship to countries in South East Asia. The effect in this region has not been as bad as in the USA and Europe, emphasising that they export around 80% of their huge waste generation.
Sharif Metals, Int'l LLC (ARE), Board Member of the BIR Plastics Committee