Dealing with Polymer Waste

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Dealing with polymer waste

Polymers can be made into a huge variety of items rather easily; this is why it is so popular. Nowadays it is used everywhere from everyday items such as cups, milk bottles and plastic bags, to medical and laboratory equipment. All applications use different types of polymers such as polyethene, polyvinyl chloride and polypropene. Polymers, also, can be used as a fuel source by burning under controlled conditions to release heat energy and therefore electricity. Despite their popularity in manufacturing products, the use of them is not sustainable as most are non-biodegradable so they will not break down in landfill.

In 2001, the environmental agency reported that 85% of plastic disposal in the UK was in landfill. This figure is unacceptable especially as there are other ways of disposing of polymers, such as recycling. Recycling is a relatively new idea which started in the 1980s by recycling only a few polymers, over the years almost every polymer is able to be recycled. For every tonne of plastic recycled, it is estimated that 1.8 tonnes of oil is saved.

The first process in recycling is sorting. This stage is essential as the plastic waste has to be sorted in order to be processed and converted into a new product. Nowadays different types of polymer are separated by optical scanning systems; if even a small quantity is misplaced it can render the whole product unusable.

Once the polymers are sorted, they must be processed. Normally this means chopping them up into small flakes and washing to remove any impurities. These pellets are then sent off to manufacturing companies where they are melted down and remolded into the desired shape.

PVC is the most challenging plastic to recycle due to its high chlorine content. It is uneconomical as recycling costs than that made from crude oil. Now, incineration has been used to stop PVC from going into landfill site. But because of the incineration of PVC (which releases toxic...
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