OSC Recycling & Sustainability Service Group

A reflective blog exploring recycling & sustainability initiatives at the Overseas School of Colombo

Plastic Recycling in Colombo: A 2018 Update

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Plastic, plastic and more plastic!

Plastic is a non-biodegradable material that is being accumulated in the world today in disturbing and alarming quantities (see the Guardian’s 2017 article for an update). Although plastic is an important resource in our daily lives, its end product contributes seriously to the broader problem of mismanaged Solid Domestic Waste (SDW). Since plastic it not biodegradable, the way in which it is disposed is important, as if it is incorrectly disposed, it can cause environmental pollution, along with other health related issues. Other than reducing the consumption of plastic (the best solution) one of the alternatives to the incorrect disposal of plastic, is recycling the plastic. However, this method does not reduce the amount of plastic that there is in the world, and the recycling process usually involves a lot energy. Nevertheless, there are other comparatively efficient ways to deal with the management of plastic waste, but this article focuses mainly on recycling as a potential solution.

The issue regarding the management of plastic is of global significance – it is challenging to effectively and efficiently dispose of plastic, mainly because most plastics are non-biodegradable – they will remain on earth in the same form for a long time – and because humans have become excessively dependent on plastic. Moreover, this hinders the chance of people reducing the amount of plastic that they use, inevitably forcing re-using and recycling to appear as more feasible methods for the management of plastic.

Viridis Field Visit

In March 2018 the DP Geography class visited the Viridis plastic recycling center in Horona Sri Lanka to learn more about PET and other plastic recycling. Viridis has a collection point on our campus and we took the accumulated plastic items with us. After we had arrived at the center, we introduced ourselves to the people there and handed over the recyclable plastic waste that we had brought from our school. Viridis addresses the issue of plastic on a national scale – they collect plastic from all around Sri Lanka and bring it to their factory, where they recycle it. Their vision as a company is “to be the most successful and respected Leader in waste management industry in Sri Lanka by implementing, developing and maintenance of innovative and sustainable waste collection and recycling systems while upgrading the living conditions of society.”

Mr. Nilantha Gamage, from the management team, gave us a tour of the Viridis facility. He started by providing us with statistics related to what they were doing at the center. He told us Viridis trucks and teams collect and process approximately 100 tons of plastic waste a month. It is estimated that Sri Lanka imported about 15,000 tons of PET (Polyethylene terephthalate) during a similar period of time (see Chrishanthi Christopher’s  Sunday Times article). Thus, depending on statistics for the country, Viridis is only processing a small percentage of all of the plastic being produced and consumed in Sri Lanka. Mr. Gamage also addressed some of the economic issues that they face while recycling the plastic. For example, he spoke to us about how people prefer to use virgin plastic (plastic that is produced new from the petroleum refining process), therefore the selling prices of non-virgin plastic (plastic that has been recycled) in the market would remain higher than that of virgin plastics – because virgin plastics are in demand and more people are buying it – hence it is slightly difficult for them to sell the plastic that they recycle.

Different types of plastic used by consumers. Most of this is recycled at Viridis (source: Quora)

Mr. Gamage then directed us outside where we observed how they handle the plastic in the Viridis recycling plant.

  • Step 1:They started off by separating the plastic according to its color, after which they would put the plastic bottles into a machine which would remove the sticker around it, as well as the bottle caps.
  • Step 2: Following this was the shredding process, which was also done by a large, noisy machine. However, if the plastic was too big to be shredded – like a plastic garbage bin – then a Viridis worker manually chop the plastic into smaller chunks before shredding it (The shredded plastic looks like colored plastic rice grains).
  • Step 3: Even though the plastic was shredded, it was still dirty. Therefore it was put into a tub of water, washed and finally dried in an electric oven.
  • Step 4: The end of the drying process was followed by the beginning of the packing process, and it is then ready to be exported to buyers. Unfortunately, it is at this point, that they face the economic challenge – the price for recycled plastics is very as a consequence of relatively low crude oil prices. at which they are selling the plastic is low and they are barely breaking even.

While we were exploring the Viridis recycling plant, I observed that the plant consistently incorporates the use of a lot of energy in their machinery (the shredder, the machine that removes the bottle caps and the stickers as well as the oven), thus I wondered how much energy they consume in a month. I approached Mr. Gamage and asked him, and he told me that they consume roughly 8,000 units of energy in a month: which is a lot of energy; supporting the fact that even though recycling is considered an effective way to handle plastic waste, it still consumes a lot of energy in the process, which makes it a slightly inefficient process!

Impact of China’s Plastic Import Ban

Many high-income countries (Europe and North American notably) used to export their plastic waste for recycling in China. However, in 2017 China banned other the import of plastic waste because they did not want to be the “world’s garbage dump” (Freytas-Tamura). This affects many high-income counties as the volume of plastic in their recycling centers is high and China has always been a good market. Hence, they are struggling to effectively manage the plastic. Consequently, this reflects how much people in the European region depend on plastic and also, countries do not want to be responsible for handling plastic waste.

The John Keels group has also recently taken the initiative to address the management of plastic and recycling plastic. Moreover, their website is very insightful, as it shows its users the exactly where they can drop off their plastic waste, and it simultaneously spreads awareness if it reaches the right audience. It is possible to get more information regarding this by visiting their website.

Our trip to the Viridis plastic recycling center was insightful, not only because we had the opportunity to see how plastic is recycled, but also because it shaped our understanding of the rising global concern of effectively managing plastic and the problems associated with it.

REFERENCES

Christopher, Chrishanthi.  “Reusable bags diktat doubles plastic imports” Sunday Times. 12 February 2017. Web.

Fazlulhaq, Nadia. “War against plastic waste hampered by don’t-care public.” Sunday Times. 29 June 2014. Web.

Freytas-Tamura, Kimko. “Plastics Pile up as China Refuses to Take the West’s Recycling.” New York Times. January 2018. Web.

Laville, Sandra and Matthew Taylor. “Bottling it: A million bottles a minute: world’s plastic binge ‘as dangerous as climate change’”. The Guardian. 28 June 2017. Web.

Quora. “What are some types of plastic?” Web.

 

Article by © Devin Amalean with edits and additions from his DP Geography teacher

photos by the author

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Written by ianlockwood

2018-04-24 at 11:58 AM

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