Did you know the UK is one of Europe’s top five producers of plastic and only 39% of plastic in the UK is recycled correctly? Landfill space has its limit, and ethically we should all be moving away from a take-make-waste society, and more towards a ‘circular economy’ approach through reuse and recycling over landfill. For every ton of plastic that is recycled, 7.4 cubic yards of landfill spaced is saved. Recycling plastic also reduces the amount of non-renewable energy used in the plastic-making process. This is due to generating new products from existing plastic use much less energy than creating plastics from raw materials.
What are hard to recycle plastics?
Only non-biodegradable plastic can be recycled, no matter if the plastic is fossil-based or bio-based. Plastics such as computer encasings, plastic coated wrapping paper, plastic pipes and plastic outdoor furniture are hard to break down and recycle, either due to their size or multiple plastic polymers being used together in one product. These are called Hard-to-Recycle Plastics (HTRP).This recycling complexity leads to high volumes of plastic moving down the waste hierarchy and becoming classified as ‘non-recyclable’ – either being sent Waste-to-Energy or, at worst, landfill disposal where no resource can be repurposed.
One of the key challenges of tackling these HRTPs is end-to-end traceability – understanding who sourced and manufactured the initial plastic, where the material spent the majority of its life, and how and where it completes its lifecycle. Many solutions are now being trialled to improve plastics traceability, and one such solution is the application of blockchain, which is more commonly considered part of the cryptocurrency technology.
What is blockchain technology?
Blockchain is a system of collecting information in a certain way making it difficult or impossible to change, hack, or cheat the system. A blockchain can be replicated across a network of computer systems or a production line. Each blockchain contains numerous actions and each time a new action happens, a record of that transaction is added to all participants’ records. The database with all blockchain records is called the Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT).
Blockchain is a type of DLT, and actions are recorded with an unchangeable cryptographic signature called a hash. Therefore, if one block in a chain is changed then it would be able to show that something is wrong. Hackers would have to corrupt an entire blockchain system to gain access.
How is blockchain technology is changing the way we recycle?
Blockchain technology is now being used in the recycling industry by leading recycling stakeholders to allow value chain traceability and visibility. Circulor, a leading provider of sustainable supply chain and dynamic carbon dioxide traceability, and Total Energies, an energy company, and Recycling Technologies, a plastic recycling company, have partnered up to build a blockchain-enabled traceability solution for Hard-to-Recycle Plastics (HTRP).
The project is being assisted by financing from Innovate UK. The aim is to provide fully traceable and an accurately labelled record of recycled plastics, from beginning to end of the production line. This is to provide stakeholders in the recycling industry greater transparency over the source and quality of plastic-based materials entering as well as exiting their facilities, ensuring processes are carried out correctly.
This new technology will come into effect next year, as the UK Government is introducing a plastic packaging tax on packaging that does not contain 30% recycled plastic, while the European Union will introduce a packaging levy. As a result, plastic recycling information will need to become more accurate on the recycling process and its use in new materials.
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