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The Journey of Plastics from a Linear to a Circular Economy

The Journey of Plastics from a Linear to a Circular Economy

Plastic in India majorly constitutes 4-7% of the total waste in landfills, and only 1% remains in the system after being picked up and recycled. Still, plastic waste is given more attention due to its visibility in the system when compared to other more pressing issues in need of importance. Plastic, the wonder material has become omnipresent in our modern lifestyle. The strength, durability and malleability of plastics has made it the first choice of manufacturers. It has been able to replace other traditional materials, that too under a very short span of time; one of the causes behind our inexperience with the material and its properties. We’re still discovering and rediscovering information about its uses and management. It can be said that the human race is yet to solve the huge mystery of plastic disposal and its management.

The only solution is to adopt a circular economy, which aims to eliminate waste by its restoration and regeneration. What is actually waste for one, can be food for another? Same is the case with plastic waste. While we may have no use of the plastic package post the consumption of the product inside, but the same packaging can be recycled and made into something useful without being disposed of in landfills.

But human psychology has been following an entirely opposite route of “take, use and dispose” instead of take, use, dispose and recycle which has led to permanent damage to our planet. If everyone starts working according to the norms of Circular Economy, Earth will be a planet free from wastage and trash.

The circular economy offers you both, environmental as well as economic advantages. Let’s take a look at a few of them:

1. Economic Growth-

Circular Economy is the direct accelerator to the economic growth of a nation. It contributes to an increase in GDP and National Income. This is a result of an increase in the number of job opportunities and cheaper production by extracting the maximum use from all the waste. Implementing this directly increases the income and decreases the expenditure of each household.

2. Substantial Resource Saving-

Moving towards sustainable development is one of the most significant features of a Circular Economy model. As mentioned earlier, it proves to be a helping hand in saving resources as the focus remains on manufacturing products that are least acquired from natural resources.

3. Land Productivity and Soil Health-

With the help of the principles of a Circular Economy, we can bring a remarkable difference in productivity and health of the land. Because of a consistent effort to manipulate the uses of waste material disposed, we are making sure that land pollution is minimized at its best.

4. Fewer Emissions-

The aim is to counterattack the overload and exploitation of the ecosystem by reuse and dematerialization of waste materials being produced. Less use of non-renewable energies and fossil fuels promotes fewer emissions of toxic materials and greenhouse gases.

Plastics are also termed as a perfectly imperfect material. Perfect, because of its multiple uses, and Imperfect due to its non-recyclability. Most of the plastics look similar to each other and are difficult to distinguish with the human eye and hand, therefore, they are hard to segregate and recycle. If all the plastics had the same features and characteristics, we probably wouldn’t be having this conversation. But due to different components, types, chemicals, and colors plastic recycling has become extremely challenging for us. Their segregation is laborious, time-consuming as well as expensive. But in recent times, science has come across some miraculous ways to recycle and reuse it. Who would have thought of building roads with plastic or even generating electricity from the same material? HDPE (High Density Polyethylene), a kind of plastic, is recycled to make raised garden beds. Some of the other plastics that are also used in product packaging such as polyethylene terephthalate (PET or PETE), polyvinyl chloride (PVC), polypropylene (PP), are used in the construction of roads. They are first segregated and then shredded to mix with bitumen to create the mixture for roads. These plastic types can also contribute in the making of oils or construction of tiles or Plastones. There are many more ways to recycle and manage plastics instead of just dumping it in landpits post-consumption. It totally depends on us whether to plan plastic or to ban it.

One of the ways to recycle plastic is Heat Compression, in which all kinds of plastic polymers are taken together in huge containers, churned and then finally melted. This process does not require segregation of plastics for recycling. Another way to adopt Plastic Recycling is by using Monomer Recycling. This process involves Reverse Polymerization. The polymers are condensed within the same plastic which causes chemical components to reverse, creating a more stable recycled plastic.

The technical challenges have been solved by science and great minds but the major challenge lies in the behavioral change required in the society. The perspective and vision of humankind need to change when we talk of plastic and its reuse. This reckless behavior has triggered an avalanche of waste dumps in open areas. In order for humanity to co-exist with the earth, there is an urgent need to adopt a circular economy model and recycle our plastic waste in an efficient manner. Using plastics in a systematic manner can turn the tables around for the manufacturers as well as consumers. Instead of eliminating plastics from our lives, we can focus on how to implement their uses to get out of the Linear Economy phase. Reusing them smartly will be a revolutionary move for us as responsible human beings. Something to bring under the focus is that Circular Economy is not easy to implement. However, if we are able to put the wings of growth and sustainability on our economic system, then probably after centuries from now people will say that it was the Circular Economic Revolution that inaugurated a brand new era of development and prosperity in the nation.

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