Chemical recycling to benefit from changes in waste policy in UK
In December 2017, China implemented the “national sword plan”, which significantly reduced the import of plastic waste, of which more than 2.7 million tons came from the UK. Malaysia and other countries have also begun to reject waste plastics. These bans force policy makers and scholars to look at how the UK will deal with its plastic waste with a new perspective. The most important thing is to change the status quo from a problem to an opportunity for change.
At present, 67% of plastic waste produced in the UK is difficult to be recycled and packaged, and the study found that the recovery rate is very low (hahladakis et al., 2018). In addition, 40% of household waste in Britain is incinerated, and some local councils in London incinerate more than 80% of the collected waste. At present, there is a lack of solutions for the sustainable treatment of non recyclable plastics, such as films and other food packaging. Therefore, although landfilling and / or incineration will have adverse effects on the environment, they are currently the only economically viable method for NRPS in the UK.
More and more people are aware of the problem of plastic waste, which has brought political pressure to Britain to implement solutions to reduce the production of plastic waste. In response, the British government held a consultation meeting on changing plastic waste management strategies. Two of these policy changes are particularly likely to have an impact on the treatment of national ecosystems and provide an opportunity to consider alternatives to landfilling and incineration, such as chemical recycling. Since the UK began to consider chemical waste recycling as a waste treatment method, great changes have taken place in the policy pattern (Fichtner consulting engineer, 2004).
In particular, some people criticized that the current packaging recycling record (PRN) system is only applicable to 10% of the plastic packaging recycling cost, and is prone to fraud, so the system is being reconsidered. Packaging waste export recycling instructions (perns) also have an increasingly serious problem. More and more countries, such as China and Malaysia, close their borders and do not accept plastic waste from other countries. Some members of Congress now call for an end to plastic waste exports. In line with the change of PRN plan, the British government also proposed to impose a new plastic tax on packaging that does not contain at least 30% recycled materials. If the measure takes effect, it will be implemented from 2022. These policies, coupled with the increasing difficulty of exporting plastic waste, may create an economic prospect in which chemical recycling can play a greater role in the existing waste management system in the UK.
In this context, it is time to consider the possible role of chemical recycling in the treatment of plastic waste in the UK, and to assess policy and market conditions to make chemical recycling an economically viable solution for the treatment of NRPS. Chemical recycling processes, such as pyrolysis and gasification, are considered as potential ways to reduce plastic waste, because it can treat various forms of NRPS and convert them into usable raw materials, which in turn can be used to manufacture raw plastics or refined into other petrochemical products, such as diesel and aviation fuels.
From the perspective of sustainable development, converting waste plastics into petrochemical raw materials can offset the consumption of fossil fuels by recycling chemical raw materials from NRPS, thus helping to reduce the consumption of fossil fuels (Wong et al., 2015). However, there are many warnings in this process, especially from the perspective of the high-temperature energy demand required to convert plastic waste into refined petrochemical products (rollinson and oladejo, 2019), as well as transportation and storage requirements, as well as the fact that plastic production needs to be reduced.
In order to prove that chemical recovery is an effective solution, it must meet some basic standards. First, compared with the current benchmark solution incineration, it must be a profitable solution. As of 2018, the grid fee for incineration is about 90 pounds / ton, while the grid fee for landfill is 100 pounds / ton. Secondly, its impact on the environment must also be less than incineration, especially in terms of carbon footprint and toxin release. In particular, as the 2019 European chemical recycling pointed out, “the lack of structured and coordinated waste collection and recycling methods will restrict companies from creating new value-added products from these wastes.”
These two consultations interact directly with the chemical recycling industry in the following ways. The waste treatment industry is disappointed that the revenue from the PRN program has not been effectively transmitted to local governments for reinvestment in waste treatment infrastructure. A revised property reference number scheme should be used as a designated tax to directly use the income from the issuance of property reference numbers to improve the waste classification and recycling system. A key question is whether chemical recycling facilities are eligible to be beneficiaries of the PRN program in order to include them in the scope of potential solutions for investment.
There are still many reasonable problems about the overall sustainability of chemical recycling as a method of plastic waste. However, due to increasing export restrictions and increasing pressure on waste management infrastructure, other solutions need to be explored. Considering the current waste management situation in the UK, in order to make progress, pyrolysis and gasification are not necessarily the perfect solution to the problem of plastic waste, but only compete with incineration on an ecological and economic basis. By implementing these policies, we can create a new plastic waste disposal market in the UK by stimulating private investment in industrial R & D.