The Cost Effectiveness of Recycling Plastic

Subject: Environment
Pages: 13
Words: 3421
Reading time:
13 min
Study level: College

Do you believe that recycling of plastic number two is more cost effective as compared to manufacturing of new products?

Plastics are significant in people’s lives. Plastics are utilized to make various products such as toys, which are used daily in homes. Moreover, application of products made from plastic increase daily. In the United States alone, plastics are estimated to make more than 13% of solid wastes from municipal waste stream. The percentage indicated above shows a tremendous increase from the records in 1960s.

In the 1960s, plastic wastes presented less than one percent of the total municipal waste stream. In essence, current records show importance of recycling plastic wastes. Statistics show that large percentages of plastic wastes are derived from a variety of items such as soft-drink bottles, among others. Additionally, durable products such as household appliances are also made from plastics. However, disposing plastic wastes has been quite challenging since they are not biodegradable. Recycling plastic number two is cost effective as compared to manufacturing of new products (EPA 1).

Plastics are classified according to their codes for recycling purposes. Plastic number two are also known as HDPE (high-density polyethylene). Plastic number two are widely used in manufacturing of toys and detergent bottles, among others. Even though in general, the rate of recycling plastics is just 9%, this happens because of the varying rate of recycling based on the different types of plastics.

For instance, recycling rate of HDPE plastics is quite high. Records from EPA (1) show that more than 28% of number two plastics were recycled in 2012 alone. The figures above show that recycling of plastic number two has increased tremendously. In fact, it should be noted that only plastic number one registered a higher recycling percentage (31%) than plastic number two in 2012 (EPA 1).

Recycling has been considered an effective way of managing plastic wastes. According to Fullerton (85), recycling of plastic number two has been considered the most effective way of managing environmental wastes. However, one issue that has raised concern is whether manufacturers consider recycling of such plastic wastes to be more cost effective as compared to manufacturing new products using new raw materials or not.

Most of the manufacturers have always considered manufacturing of new plastic products to be more cost effective as compared to recycling of used materials. Unlike using the raw materials, old plastic materials will need more processes to clean in order to make them effective in production of other plastic materials. This may be considered a costly way of manufacturing new products.

Fullerton investigates the repercussion of manufacturing new plastics as opposed to recycling plastics. Plastic number two are widely acceptable for recycling since they have no health risks associated with them. Additionally, high-density polyethylenes are widely accepted throughout the world for recycling. It should also be noted that products got from recycled plastic number two are essential in society. These products include pens, fencing, pipes as well as detergent bottles, among others.

The main reason for recycling plastic number two is that it has ability to be utilized for many applications. In addition, its use helps in reducing wastes products, which pollute the environment. However, when looking into the economic side of it, various aspects of cost measures are taken into consideration. For instance, the cost of manufacturing new plastic products, the cost of recycling and manufacturing products and the cost brought about by waste management. Once these three aspects are considered, then it becomes clear on how to deal with plastic wastes (Fullerton 66).

As has been seen above, Fullerton notes that the cost of recycling is quite high. In fact, most companies have avoided recycling such products because of the high costs associated with it. However, Ackerman (47) notes that recycling should not be viewed rigidly as a way through which companies use wastes products to produce new products. Recycling may also involve re-using of various products in other activities after serving their initial purposes.

For instance, containers used to pack laundry products can be used at home for various purposes. They can be used to store pegs used for hanging clothes and such other tasks. That is one way of recycling. The manufacturers can also use old plastic number two to manufacture other plastic products such as toys, among other materials. In essence, using alternative ways of recycling plastic number two wastes is cost effective since very little amount is spent while the products serves the same purpose.

For instance, when used plastics are used to carry pegs as opposed to manufacturing new containers. In this regard, manufacturers can mold used plastics in a form, which is required to serve other purposes without incurring very high expenses. For example, manufacturers can make pens and pegs, as well as toys from recycled plastic two products without incurring very high costs.

Additionally, manufacturers need to note the fact that by minimizing pollution through plastic wastes, they would be saving the world from avoidable expenses in disposal and management of plastic wastes. Notably, the coding system for plastics has also lessened the cost of recycling. Plastics can now be recycled in accordance with the code, which makes it easier for the polymers to mix. This has greatly reduced the cost of recycling since manufactures can just sort the plastics according to their PIC plastic identification codes before the recycling process is begun (Ackerman 41).

When looking at the cost of recycling plastics, a number of facts should be brought forward. For instance, that the basic raw materials used for plastic is natural gas and / or petroleum. One can note that plastics consume just about 4% of the world’s oil. However, it should also be noted that the world’s supplies are being depleted. This shows that supply for raw materials are also being exhausted. Additionally, it points to the fact that the cost of raw materials is dependent on cost of oil.

The cost of oil per barrel is not constant especially given the politics and wars associated with its main sources like Iran and Iraq in the Middle East. It therefore, goes without say that the cost of raw materials for plastics is slowly rising which in turn increases the cost of manufacturing new plastic products. In essence, a good number of plastic products are slowly going towards the end of their lifecycle. Moreover, they go on to form non-biodegradable mountains of wastes in the waste streams. Therefore, as the prices of petroleum increase, it is becoming increasingly viable for manufacturers to recycle polymers instead of making them from raw materials (University of Cambridge 1-27).

When can recycling of plastic number two be considered costly as a way of managing wastes?

Plastic recycling is quite complex since it involves a range of processes. For instance, the term plastic recycling can be used to refer to primary recycling, secondary recycling, tertiary recycling and quaternary recycling. Primary recycling involves numerous processes, as it requires the mechanical reprocessing of a product with equivalent properties. This is quite expensive and extensive.

On the other hand, secondary recycling requires mechanical reprocessing of products with lower properties. This is also quite extensive although it is relatively inexpensive as compared to primary recycling. Tertiary recycling is mostly referred to as chemical recycling. Tertiary recycling requires that the polymer be de-polymerized back to its chemical composition. This is extensive yet again it is not as expensive as the first two. Finally, there is quaternary recycling which deals with recovery of energy. Quaternary deals mainly with recovery of energy from plastic wastes (Fisher 563-627).

Consequently, depending on the kind of recycling opted for, it can sometimes be costly as a way of managing wastes. For instance, if primary recycling is chosen using plastic number two, then the processes involved in reprocessing wastes to achieve quality products that would otherwise be manufactured originally is quite tasking and expensive. That is, the kind of plastic recycling technique is central to the cost of recycling in managing wastes.

For example, if products of lower quality are required then it is less costly than when products of original quality are required. Moreover, if recycling of plastic two is done to recover the chemical composition or recover the energy, then this is slightly cheaper as compared to the recovery of original quality of products. In essence, recycling of plastics can be costly when all the ingredients of original product are required (Fisher 563-627).

Recycling of plastic materials is very important in managing waste appropriately without subjecting the environment to any form of pollution. However, there are instances when it can be considered as an ineffective way of managing plastic wastes given the associated costs. For instance, plastic materials that are used to wrap products in the supermarket are very dangerous to the environment. Environmental agencies have been recommending recycling of these materials as the most cost-effective way of managing them.

However, there are instances when manufacturers would consider recycling of plastic number two more costly than manufacturing new products using the raw materials. One such case may arise when plastic materials have been subjected to dirt. In order to recycle them, many processes will have to be undertaken, a fact that can make the cost of reprocessing to be very high. In such circumstances, the waste is best-managed using landfills (Porter 58).

In essence, the process of bringing back used products into a recyclable plastic tends to be expensive. This is likely to increase the overall cost of recycling and hence making it costly as a way of managing wastes. The process of collecting, sorting and recycling plastic number two is sometimes quite cumbersome. According to Porter (58), these processes can be complex especially when the required type of plastic is scarce as compared to the available ones. For instance, it can be quite unwieldy to find enough units of type two plastics as compared to type one plastics. This gives recyclers additionally task of sorting and waiting for the units to be adequate for cost effective recycling within the area of production.

Recycling of plastics also depends on the location from which recyclable plastics are collected. For instance, most companies tend to collect used plastic number two and then send them to China from recycling. Most companies do this to save on cost of recycling. It therefore, means that when recycling is done in the United States then it becomes more expensive given the channels involved from collection to manufacturing of new products. The location within which recycling is done is therefore central to the cost of recycling. For instance, when recycling is done in the United States, labor costs, which range from collecting the materials as well as reprocessing costs, are quite high as compared to labor costs in developing countries or countries like china and India (Chanda and Roy 27).

Collection of recyclable plastic wastes poses great challenge to the industry in terms of cost effectiveness, technology and social behavioral aspects. For instance, collecting of plastic wastes is usually done by one of the poorest group of individuals in the world. Additionally, these individuals are usually illiterate. This makes it difficult for them to perform preliminary sorting of plastics according to their types.

Moreover, this makes reprocessing quite costly since plastic number two has to be sorted out from other plastic types before it is recycled. Waste management involves several aspects, which involves disposal of utilized materials. Unfortunately, plastic number two cannot be disposed in landfills since it is not biodegradable. Moreover, collection and sorting provides obstacles since it is quite costly. In this respect, plastic number two can be considered costly to recycle as a way of managing wastes (Chanda and Roy 27).

One of the most common challenges which recyclers of plastic number two face include the cost of producing recycled resins from the wastes. This is usually difficult because at the molecular level, there is inherent immiscibility of the wastes. At times, this process requires blending with virgin resin, which is again expensive given the cost of collecting and reprocessing wastes.

Moreover, purity of recycled plastic wastes is also an important factor in blending. Again this requires sorting of the highest order which is quite expensive. Additionally, expenses involved in purifying plastic wastes are quite high. This makes it expensive to recycle plastic number two as a way of waste management. In fact, it makes it cost effective to use biodegradable alternatives to products made from plastic number (Thompson, Moore, vom Saal, and Swan 2153-2166).

As shown in the paragraph above, when recycling of plastic number two requires pure resins, then recycling of plastic number two can become quite expensive. Additionally, when the place of recycling is far from the area of collection, then a lot of expenses can be incurred in recycling plastic number two. Recycling of plastic number two, as well as other types consist of many significant steps, which incur costs.

These include collection of the plastic wastes from waste streams, sorting them out, cleaning, sizing, separation and compartibilization, among others. All the processes named above incur costs, which effectively makes recycling of plastic number two costly. In essence, achieving desired results requires close monitoring of the processes. Moreover, the process of collection, cleaning, transportation and separation can be quite expensive if the plastics are not sorted according to PIC codes or purity (Thompson, Moore, vom Saal, and Swan 2153-2166).

Compare the cost effectiveness of recycling plastic number two in the United States and China

United States exports over 50% of its plastics for recycling purposes. The main recipient of plastics from the United States is China where recycling of plastics are done in small companies, some of which owned by private individuals. China has few resources; this means that imports are their main source of raw materials. In this regard, even scrap plastics, metals and paper are welcomed in China.

The United States has numerous laws that guide reprocessing of plastic wastes. These laws have made it quite expensive to recycle plastics in a cost effective manner. Moreover, a number of companies in the United States have established companies in china to help in recycling of plastic wastes. This means that it is much more cost effective to recycle plastic number two in China than in the United States (Teuten et al. 43).

There have been increased efforts in managing plastic wastes through recycling in China and the United States. However, the approach taken by the United States in recycling plastic wastes is different from the approach taken by China. China’s fast growing industry depends heavily on wastes products from other countries like the United States. For instance, China reprocesses plastic sodas into fabrics, among other items. However, it should be noted that much of the plastic wastes imported from the United States are reprocessed in primitive workshops in china, which makes it cheaper than in the United States.

Moreover, the poor environmental regulations in china have also increased mushrooming of home based workshops for recycling plastic wastes. In addition, the poor regulations have also enabled low cost of reprocessing of plastic wastes in China as compared to the United States, which has tight environmental regulations. However, it should be noted that as of 2013, China increased its focus on environmental protection, which has worked to reduce import of poorly sorted plastic wastes (Teuten et al. 43).

Another aspect that has driven the cost of recycling of plastic number two in the United States is the cost of reprocessing these materials. Usually, plastics are collected in very bad conditions, additionally; they are packed and transported in poor conditions since parking is done by unskilled people. This makes it difficult for companies to perform the needed sorting and reprocessing as required.

Moreover, there are only a few people in the United States ready to sort out dirt. On the other hand, China has many jobless people who would readily work in plastic dumpsites. Additionally, working in dumpsites in the United States is a preserve of a few street dwellers that depend mainly on gifts. This is quite different from China where skilled people with households are ready to sort plastic wastes in order to fend for their families (Shaxson 2141-2151)

Concisely, labor costs in China are cheap as compared to the United States. Another reason for low labor costs is that until recently, the government has not been following closely on environmental impacts of imported plastic wastes. This has encouraged importation of poorly sorted plastic wastes in numerous containers to China. Similarly, recycling of plastic wastes has been left to sole proprietors who own workshops within China. This has also reduced regulation of recycling processes in China and hence low labor costs. With all these factors in consideration, it is only wise to state that recycling of plastic number two is more cost effective in China than in the United States (Shaxson 2141-2151).

Compare the cost effectiveness of recycling plastic number two in two states in the United States of America

It is estimated by REI that United States’ gross in recycling industries amounts to over $236 billion yearly. This makes it comparable to other industries in the country. This shows that although the country exports much of its plastic to China, it does enough to show its ability to recycle its own plastic wastes. Different states have varying regulations on recycling of plastic number two. This can bring differences in cost effectiveness. However, it should be noted that all the states try to apply the federal government’s policies on recycling of plastic number two.

For instance, the State of South Carolina has made tremendous steps in recycling of plastic number two, among other wastes. In fact, The State of South Carolina is categorized ahead of the State of Georgia concerning recycling of plastics. For instance, the State of Georgia approximates that they squander more than 100 million dollars to dispose recyclable wastes worth more than 300 million dollars. This shows how far they lag behind in recycling of wastes within their streams. In fact, more fact-findings in the state of Georgia found that more than 36% of constituents of their municipal wastes are recyclable and can be used to manufacture new products (Rebeiz and Craft 245–257)

These are waste products, which can be recycled and hence reduce on the need for raw materials to produce new or alternative plastic products. However, this is quite different from the State of South Carolina where advance steps have been made to recycle not only plastic number two but also other wastes from the municipal waste stream. Further records from EPA show that more than 160 000 tons of plastic bottles, which are recyclable, are disposed in the State of Georgia yearly.

Additionally, more than 220,000 tons of recyclable glass is also disposed yearly. In essence, based on the cost incurred in disposing these recyclable materials, the state of Georgia is not making cost effective measures concerning management of wastes. Studies have also shown that Georgian landfills are full of recyclable plastics. Nonetheless, it should be noted that Georgia has one of the best recycling infrastructure in the United States.

For instance, plastic industry in Georgia has been found to account for more than $9 Billion in yearly sales. Additionally, it accounts for the employment of more than 75000 workers in the plastic recycling industry. Additionally, it should also be noted that Georgia spends more than 1.8 Billion dollars annually to pay salaries and wages in recycling and reprocessing related jobs.

On the other hand, recycling industry in South Carolina is estimated to cost the State more than 6.5 Billion dollars in economic expenditure. Furthermore, the state had engaged more than 37000 people in the industry by 2005. Additionally, recycling industry alone is estimated to have contributed tax revenues of about 69 million dollars. This industry is also estimated to be growing at a rate of 12% yearly. It is also estimated that South Carolina would save more than 30 Million dollars if they could recycle all the recyclable materials in the municipal waste stream.

The estimations also showed that South Carolina would reach economic impact of 11 Billion dollars by 2010 based on its growth in recycling industry. The two states can be seen to be doing enough to show that they value recycling of municipal solid wastes. However, based on amount of solid wastes the State of Georgia disposes, the State of Carolina can be considered more cost effective in dealing with waste management than the State of Georgia (Gregory 2013-2025).

Works Cited

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Chanda, Manas, and Roy Salil. Plastics technology handbook. 4th ed. Boca Raton: CRC Press, 2007. Print.

EPA. Wastes, Resource Conservation, Common Wastes & Materials: Plastics. 2004. Web.

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Fullerton, Don. The Economics of Household Garbage and Recycling Behavior. Cheltenham: Elgar, 2002. Print.

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