It is necessary for humans to consume in order to survive; however, buying more and more stuff that we see in flashy advertisements has extended consumption from just a necessity to a hobby. With this new hobby in our lives, a new problem, over-consumption, has emerged. And with “over-production” comes a great emission of greenhouse gasses and plastic waste accumulating in our nature that we so desperately need to protect for our future.
Plastic waste is an unyielding issue that needs urgent possibilities of solutions to be dealt with because of the durability of plastics and how they accumulate in nature for centuries. One of the most common ones we hear about is recycling. Nowadays, nearly all establishments or buildings have recycling bins. It is even possible to come across those colored bins on the streets; however, most people do not pay attention and simply use them as normal trash bins. In correlation to that, only nine percent of plastic waste is recycled, meaning that tons and tons of plastic are just laying in landfills or ending up in the environment.
There are three ways to recycle plastic waste. The first is mechanically pulverizing or melting plastics for reusing and reshaping them, which is called mechanical recycling. People choose not to mechanically recycle because of reasons including the reduced quality of plastic after being remolded or merely the inefficiency of the process (“Converting Plastic Waste into Fuel”). The second way is burning the plastic in incineration facilities. In this method, the plastic waste is burnt to turn into heat energy, which allows it to be used as an energy resource. While gaining energy by burning plastic — mostly household plastic waste — sounds like an advantageous way, this method results in the emission of pollutants that are toxic to humans and the environment since it releases multitudes of heavy metals and toxic gases into the atmosphere. (“Why Burning Plastic Won't Solve the Plastic Crisis.”).
Then, what can be done?
The third option for plastic recycling is chemical recycling. This method is used to convert plastic into fuel. But despite being able to turn plastic into fuels, this method is not as prevalent since it requires intensely high heat, meaning high reaction temperatures that are hard to achieve.
Researchers from Washington State University discovered a method to improve the efficiency of chemically recycling plastic waste (“Converting Plastic Waste into Fuel”) by developing a catalytic process. This process is able to convert polyethylene, the most prevalent used plastic in the world used in the production of serene wrap to plastic bags (“Polyethylene”), into jet fuel as well as high-value lubricant. Trying another metal, ruthenium, on a carbon catalyst alongside a solvent was the objective. Ninety percent of the plastic was converted into components of the fuel within just an hour at 220 degrees Celsius, which is significantly faster and at a lower cost than the usual methods.
In this method, the critical aspect was adjusting the conditions to precision such as temperature and the amount of time the catalyst was used in the process.
And according to scientists, this method can be flexible in which market it is to be used or to what product to produce, shedding new light on the usages of waste polyethylene. (“New Technology Converts Waste Plastics to Jet Fuel in an Hour.”)
Chemical recycling is preferred over the other methods since it is able to produce more quality outcomes. Now, it is only a question of how this research can be extended to other types of plastic.
“Converting Plastic Waste into Fuel.” Science in the News, 30 June 2021, https://sitn.hms.harvard.edu/flash/2021/converting-plastic-waste-into-fuel/.
“Polyethylene.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., https://www.britannica.com/science/polyethylene.
“Why Burning Plastic Won't Solve the Plastic Crisis.” Greenpeace UK, 28 July 2022, https://www.greenpeace.org.uk/news/incineration-burning-plastic-crisis/#:~:text=Burning plastic waste also releases,damage to the immune system.
Tina Hilding, Voiland College of Engineering and Architecture. “New Technology Converts Waste Plastics to Jet Fuel in an Hour.” WSU Insider, 17 May 2021, https://news.wsu.edu/press-release/2021/05/17/new-technology-converts-waste-plastics-jet-fuel-hour/#:~:text=PULLMAN%2C%20Wash.,cost%20effective%20to%20reuse%20plastics.