OSC Recycling & Sustainability Service Group

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

A Visit to the Viridis Plastic Recycling Plant

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According to the World Bank, 2.01 billion tonnes of municipal solid waste (MSW or SDW) are produced annually around the world (World Bank). The increase of solid waste, including the production of non-biodegradable plastic, is one of the most significant human induced problem that the world faces today. Today large amounts of discarded plastic end up in the environment-both terrestrial and marine ecosystems. Ocean plastic is responsible for serious pollution and negative impacts to marine ecosystems is well documented. A negative aspect of plastic on the environment that Sri Lanka faces is the uncontrolled burning of plastics and other solid domestic waste (SDW). There are serious health impacts of this widespread practice that are not fully understood yet. “Some plastics we know are toxic, such as poly-vinyl-chloride (PVC). PVC contains phthalates and heavy metals and creates dioxins when it burns” (Ecology Center). In Sri Lanka, solid waste has become a serious, but uncomfortable  problem for urban planners to deal with. This was brought into the public sphere when the Meethotamulla garbage dump collapsed and destroyed many homes on April 14th 2017 (Roar).  Two years on and the country is still struggling with how best to manage solid waste in the face of growing production of SDW.

Global production and consumption of plastic continuously rises in an age of sometimes contradictory development, prosperity, disparity and globalization. The challenge with plastic waste in now well documented (see links below)  and understood but the momentum of the problem and its links to consumption habits which drive economies is hard to address. The idea of recycling plastic (and other) waste has economic merits while also addressing part of the problem that countries like Sri Lanka face. Several businesses are working as recyclers in Sri Lanka. They help to manage the rather enormous amounts of single use and other plastic produced by this small island while also struggling to run a profitable business at a time when petroleum and virgin prices are relatively low.

On March 1, our DP2 Environmental Systems and Societies class visited the Viridis Recycling Plant. We spoke with Sathyajith Wijerathne, who gave us a tour of the facility. This company focuses on the recycling of plastic materials in Sri Lanka. At the moment, it is the leading plastic recycler and polyethylene terephthalate (PET) flake exporter in Sri Lanka. Waste plastic bottles and other items are collected and brought to the factory in the Templeburg Industrial Zone, Panagoda, Homagama. The company employs 30  manual workers and an additional 4 drivers. Once inside the facility the plastic is segregated and then cut into small pieces called PET flakes. “These PET flakes are [later] used as the raw material for a range of products that would otherwise be made of be made of polyester” (Viridis). Most of the plastic that they recycle is exported while a smaller percentage is used in local manufacturing in Sri Lanka.

During our visit, we had the opportunity to see what procedures were taken with the plastic they collect. The different types of plastic first have to be separated into colors and types. They are then cut into very small pieces in a machine and are later washed and dried. They are first soaked in barrels, cleaned and then water is extracted. In order to completely dry the tiny pieces of plastic, they are set on trays and are baked in a large electric oven. Finally, the many pieces of plastic are set in bags to be sent to other companies that will create products out of the recycled plastic. Most of this is exported outside of Sri Lanka.

Viridis_plastic_product_1(03_19)

Recycled Viridis plastic ready for sale. The Color of the plastics has an important influences on how much recyclers can get for their products. Clear plastic earns more.

Through this experience, we learned more about the different types of plastics, such as HDPE (for example, chairs) and HIPS (for example, computers). It is therefore important to separate plastics since they are used for different purposes.

It is important to have companies, like Viridis, that recycle plastic in order to move towards a more sustainable planet. However, recycling requires a lot of energy and thus reducing and reusing are still preferable strategies for dealing with how we consume plastics.

Article by Camille-Anh Goulet (with editing from her teacher)

Photographs  © Ian Lockwood, 2019

REFERENCES

Albeck-Ripka, Livia. “Your Recycling Gets Recycled, Right? Maybe, or Maybe Not.” New York Times. 29 May 2018. Web.

de Freytas-Tamura Kimiko “Plastics Pile Up as China Refuses to Take the West’s Recycling. “ New York Times. January 2018. Web.

Kaza, Silpa et al. What a Waste 2.0: A Global Snapshot of Solid Waste Management to 2050. Washington, DC: World Bank. 2017. Web.

Milman, Oliver. “‘Moment of reckoning’: US cities burn recyclables after China bans imports.” The Guardian. 21 February 2019. Web.

Parker, Lisa. “Planet-or Plastic?” National Geographic. June 2018. Web.

Semuels, Alana. “Is This the End of Recycling?” The Atlantic. 5 March 2019. Web.

 

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Written by ianlockwood

2019-03-22 at 1:47 PM

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