Plastics Pyrolysis As A Waste Management Option Status in the EU

Almost since its foundation (1975) the Association of Plastics Manufacturers in Europe (APME, Brussels) has monitored plastics production, consumption and waste generation.

Major sectors are packaging, building and construction, automotive, electrical and electronics (E & E), agriculture, and others (e.g. furniture, houseware, toys, engineering). After a short (e.g. packaging), medium (e.g. toys) or long lifetime (e.g. building) the plastic product reports to one of various waste streams, such as municipal solid waste (MSW), separately collected packaging, other recyclables, shredding waste (cars, white goods, etc.), construction and demolition waste, agricultural waste, E & E-waste-etc.

Such waste streams differ internally with respect to their composition, the feasible methods or modes of collection, and their legal status: producer responsibility has been introduced for a steadily rising number of streams, requiring separate collection, adequate treatment, and often mandatory recycling.

Already in the early 1970s the pyrolysis of plastic wastes to liquid fuels raised considerable interest, first in Japan, later also in Western Europe, with pioneering work of Professor Hansjorg Sinn and Walter Kaminsky, who developed the fluid bed Hamburg pyrolysis process, and of Professor Menges at the RWTH Aachen. However, despite extensive work at laboratory, pilot, or even an industrial scale, such work was jeopardized by both technical problems and disastrous economic figures. Hence, in Western Europe and the USA it is still at best a tentative process, balancing between political pressures and economic reality. Major corporations, such as BASF, BP, Shell, Texaco considered various options in pyrolysis and gasification, yet concluded that their large-scale implementation remains illusory as long as suitable dump fees fail to be guaranteed on the basis of contracts of sufficiently long duration and consequent volumes.

In Japan, however, plastics pyrolysis can now be considered to be state-of-the-art, and making part of the integrated waste plastics recycling system. Still, the process is operating at huge losses at both the levels of (1) collection cost and (2) treatment cost, and very few signs are apparent that one day this situation may reverse. Treatment cost is of the order of 100 000 Yen/tonne of household plastics supplied at the plant. At 2nd ISFR [9] Kusakawa reviewed and explained current Japanese environmental regulations, including the status of polymer recycling and activities in industrial segments, such as packaging, automotive, electrical/electronic industries. He mentions the relevant technological development in Japan and importance of polymer recycling efforts to comply with the regulations. Among these are the Recycling Promotion Law, the Containers and Packaging Recycling Law, the Electrical Appliances Recycling Law, the Building Recycling Law, the Foods Recycling Law, the Automotive Recycling Law.

Thus, the average consumer and industry are paying for realizing political long-term views based on sustainable systems and oil and gas scarcity.

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