Recycling and Waste Management of Biopolymers

Biobased biopolymers offer advantages not only on the raw materials side but also on the disposal side through certain promising end-of-life (EOL) options. Especially waste disposal with energy recovery has an added benefit, which lies in gaining carbon neutral energy while allowing multiple uses after possible recycling. The Commission said that all of the composts containing biodegradable polymer materials could be classified using a risk assessment system at a higher toxicity level. Biodegradable biopolymer waste can be treated by aerobic degradation, composting, or anaerobic digestion .When biopolymers are composted or digested, their individual elements are recycled naturally, in particular their carbon and hydrogen content. The largest segment of the market, packaging, is expected to reach nearly 1.7 billion pounds in 2016. The market in 2011 is estimated at 656 million pounds, making the five-year CAGR 20.5%. The second-largest segment, made up of fibers/fabrics, is expected to increase in volume from an estimated 134 million pounds in 2011 to 435 million pounds in 2016, for a five-year CAGR of 26.6%.

There has been a marked increase in interest in biodegradable materials for use in packaging, agriculture, medicine, and other areas. In particular, biodegradable polymer materials (known as biocomposites) are of interest. As a result, many researchers are investing time into modifying traditional materials to make them more userfriendly, and into designing novel polymer composites out of naturally occurring materials. A number of biological materials may be incorporated into biodegradable polymer materials, with the most common being starch and fiber extracted from various types of plants. The belief is that biodegradable polymer materials will reduce the need for synthetic polymer production (thus reducing pollution) at a low cost, thereby producing a positive effect both environmentally and economically.

According to environmental and safety-conscious behaviour in the 21th century, it is necessary to strive to reduce all those activities that cause environmental damage in every aspect of life. More emphasis should be placed on recycling, waste-handling and environmental-friendly solutions, due to the increased amount of waste caused by the penetration of plastics. Plastic manufacture is a constantly growing industry – especially the production of packaging – so the amount of plastic waste generated is also growing steadily. Only a part of the accumulated waste is recycled, another part is destroyed and the remaining amount will continue to pollute the environment. One form of destruction may be energy recovery or incineration. Destruction is a form of energy recovery or incineration which is subject to strict legal requirements in addition to other possible activities. It could pose a serious burden on the human and natural environment if the process is not properly controlled and monitored. This article writes of the situation that seemingly a growing amount of plastic waste is used in residential combustion appliances, of which adverse environmental and health effects the majority of citizens are not aware, so these will be shown in particular. In this article, we examine the environmental and health effects and harm caused by the burning of plastics in detail. We write this study with the purpose of drawing people’s attention to the importance of reducing the quantities of plastic waste and thus the environmental impact they cause as well as the human and environmental risks of incineration.

Plastics are organic compounds consisting of giant molecules which are mostly produced from synthetic oil derivatives. According to user needs, their quality (such as flexibility, impact, fire resistance and special colours, etc.) depends on the various additives allocated into the raw material. In terms of its type, plastic can be thermoplastics or thermosetting polymers. According to Central Statistics Office (CSO) data, in Hungary the population produces approximately 300 thousand tons of plastic waste annually. Most of the plastic waste is thermoplastic packaging, therefore this type of waste is examined in detail. As the majority of plastic does not biodegrade in nature, the most important task is to reduce waste emissions, create responsible management of resulting waste and recycling.

  • Prevention-minimization of waste, reduction of hazardous waste, reuse
  • Preparation for resuse- reparation, purification and demolition
  • Recycling- material sourcing, raw material production
  • Other recovery- energy recovery, fuel disposal
  • Incineration- disposal, landfilling

The incineration of waste as a fuel generates heat energy in cement factories and power plants which is utilized in technological equipment. The resulting heat is used for operating systems, heating and generating power. The disadvantage of combustion of plastics is the air pollution caused by the noxious fumes released into the atmospheres.

Plastic waste can only be incinerated in licensed plastic waste incineration plants, all other forms of burning plastic waste are banned. Mostly plastic waste is generated by common households. The introduction of advanced selective waste collection systems has allowed the separation of different materials and types of waste. An important task is to emphasize the benefits of the separation of plastics, so they become re-usable and less polluting to our environment. Unfortunately, in Hungary, due to the economic crisis, more and more families are having trouble purchasing fuel for the winter, so the household waste is incinerated, and the harmful effects are not taken into account. During incineration, plastics cause permanent damage to the combustion heater in the flue systems and the resulting combustion products pose a serious threat to both humans and the environment. The burning of plastics is a complex chemical process. Depending on their structure, plastics can be micro-molecular or macro-molecular compounds. During plastic combustion, different phases take place, such as warming, degradation, flashover, combustion – all which are present at the same time. Low-molecular compounds can be vaporized directly in the air, and depending on their variety, are able to form a combustible mixture, or oxidize in solid form. Macro-molecular plastics have to decompose into small molecule compounds to initiate the combustion process. Burning is accompanied by the formation of chark, coking extent depends on the conditions of combustion. Two zones are formed during the combustion of most plastic. The first zone is the gas evolution (pyrolysis zone), the second zone is the chark zone (between the surface and the pyrolysis zone).  The chark zone consists of porous solid residues. Gases generated during the decomposition of the plastic composite products are extremely dangerous. The most common household plastics are:

  •   Polyethylene (PE)
  •   Polyethylene terephthalate (PET)
  •   Polypropylene (PP)
  •   Polyamide (PA)
  •   Poly (vinyl chloride) (PVC)
  •   Polyurethane (PU)

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