Plastic Waste Management

by | Dec 14, 2021 | Plastic Waste Management, Waste Management

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Plastic waste management refers to the strategies and processes aimed at effectively handling and reducing the environmental impact of plastic waste. The importance of these efforts is underscored by startling data: approximately 380 million tons of plastic are produced globally each year, with a significant portion ending up in landfills or as environmental pollution. According to the United Nations Environment Programme, around 300 million tons of plastic waste are produced annually, nearly equivalent to the weight of the entire human population.

Furthermore, only 9% of all plastic waste ever produced has been recycled, about 12% has been incinerated, and the remaining 79% has accumulated in landfills, dumps, or the natural environment. This management crisis is exacerbated by the fact that plastics can take up to 500 years to decompose, leading to long-term environmental consequences, particularly in our oceans, where over 8 million tons of plastic waste enter each year. Effective plastic waste management is crucial in tackling these challenges, focusing on reduction, reuse, and recycling to mitigate the impact on the planet.

What is Plastic Waste Management?

Monitoring of waste material from beginning to disposal is known as waste management. It consists of the collection, transportation, processing, and finally, disposal. Waste management aims to provide hygienic living conditions to decrease the quantity of refuse that arrives and leaves.

Plastic waste management involves a series of practices aimed at reducing the environmental impact of plastic waste. This not only involves recycling efforts but also encompasses a broader strategy, including waste reduction, reuse, recovery, and disposal methods. Effective management is vital in curbing the detrimental effects of plastic pollution on our oceans, wildlife, and health.

The increment in urbanization, population, and industrialization have resulted in a high concentration of plastic waste production, as plastic has been a significant part of our lives. In numerous urban areas, the administration faces difficulties in handling plastic waste due to improper waste management. Some of the major problems caused by plastic waste are the choking of drains, leaching on the ground and land water, infertile land, environmental hazards caused by burning indiscriminately, etc. Littering is a significant environmental issue; it gives an ugly look to a place.


The figure illustrates technologies adopted for plastic waste management.

Also Read: What Is The Impact Of Plastic On The Environment?

Plastic Waste Management Hierarchy

In the present fast developing world, the administration of plastic waste is one of the complex operations. It is essential to reduce generated waste apart from recycling or reusing the goods to maintain a sustainable environment. The preferable way of plastic waste management is to follow the waste management hierarchy. The waste hierarchy is divided into source reduction, reuse of products, recycling, resource recovery in terms of energy and material, incineration, and landfill, which are the least preferable. 

Waste management hierarchy

Waste Management Hierarchy


1. Source Reduction

In the plastic waste management strategy hierarchy, the most ideal step is source reduction as it eliminates the requirement of managing waste (handling, transportation, and disposal). Consuming fewer items and disposing of the waste is considered source reduction. When products are manufactured, clean production technology should also be considered. Waste minimizing strategies like using reusable products, purchasing products with minimum packaging, reading online e-newspaper instead of hardcovers, buying durable material products in bulk that are non-hazardous, and consuming recycling products are a few of the strategies for waste minimization. Source reduction helps preserve natural resources by manufacturing durable products and reducing waste as equivalent to recycling, incineration, or landfilling. 

2. Reuse

Reuse is when a product or a material can be used again for the same or different application without upgrading. Reuse extends the life of the material or a product and is similarly an alternative for source reduction. Some examples of reuse are reusing durable cups/mugs and cardboard boxes, refilling bottles, and donating materials to NGOs like computers and furniture. Reusing is preferable to recycling as the product does not change, and no amount of material and energy is used. Also, it reduces the cost and time spent on disposal.

3. Recycling

Traditional plastic is very durable and does not decompose quickly in the ambient surroundings, so it has remained in the landscape for many years. In a typical environmental condition, polymers need hundreds of years to degrade and decompose. The need for recycling and reducing the use of virgin products should be more than the consumption rate. Low-density polyethylene, high-density polyethylene, and nylon are the primary raw materials for plastic products. MSW (municipal solid waste) has a substantial fraction of plastic waste, mainly packaging material and discarded products.

4. Resource Recovery

The plastic industry has effectively acknowledged technologies for recycling and recovering waste from discarded material. The following methods of plastic waste for treatment, recycling, and recovery have resulted from years of research.

  • Polymer Blended Bitumen Road

The use of waste polymer in the bituminous concrete mix may aid in minimizing the construction cost of the roads. For building flexible roads, this method is being applied effectively. On average, plastic save 8% of bitumen costs in road construction. 

  • Co-processing of Plastic Waste in Cement Kiln

Co-processing uses waste products as alternative fuels or raw materials in industrial operations to recover energy and materials. Due to the high temperature in cement kilns, waste can be effectively disposed of without harmful emissions. 

Plasma pyrolysis technology breaks down organic compounds into gases and non-leachable solid wastes in an oxygen-starved environment. Plasma pyrolysis decomposes substances by utilizing a substantial fraction of electrons, ions, and excited molecules, as well as high-energy radiation.

  •  Conversion of Plastics Waste into Liquid Fuel

The polymer degrades to lower molecular fragments. In the process of conversion of waste plastics into fuels, random depolymerization is carried out in an especially designed reactor in the absence of oxygen and the presence of coal and certain catalytic additives. This process has the lowest maintenance and installation cost among many available methods. 

5. Incineration

Incineration is a typical procedure for treating waste; it recovers energy from waste to produce power, and the process can decrease volume by up to 90% and mass by 70%. The fuel consumed to burn the waste is 80% of waste processing costs Rs. 5460/ton, a primary demerit of this technology. Due to high moisture content, it is hard to get the base 0.07 kW/kg calorific estimation of waste required to sustain this technology. Incredibly lethal and cancer-causing agents that are unsafe to human well-being are discharged from associated technology like dioxins, furans, mercuric chloride, hydrogen fluoride, hydrogen chloride, and polychlorinated biphenyl (PCBs).

6. Landfill

Landfilling is a traditional method where the waste is dumped underneath the soil in an isolated site. For the disposal of waste, it is one of the more regularly utilized strategies. It is a well-known technique of waste management as landfilling is a low-cost option. Given the landfill transfer exchange, immense quantities of the developing countries are dumping their waste instead of reusing or recycling or trying different strategies.

Also Read: CPCB EPR Portal For Plastic Waste Management

What Is The Best Way To Manage Plastic Waste?

The best way to manage plastic waste effectively involves a combination of strategies that prioritize waste reduction and recycling while also incorporating innovative approaches. So, apart from the plastic waste management methods discussed above, a few important changes are required.

Policy and Education: Strong policy measures and educational campaigns are essential to support the above strategies. This includes creating incentives for recycling, establishing standards for recyclable and reusable products, and educating the public on the impacts of plastic waste and how to manage it.

Innovation and Design: Supporting innovation in product design that considers the entire lifecycle of plastic products can lead to less waste. Designing for recyclability and engaging in the development of new materials that are easier to recycle or degrade is also important.

The Role of Each Individual: While policies and innovations play a crucial role, individual actions are equally important. Choosing reusable products, participating in recycling programs, and advocating for sustainable practices contribute significantly to the effort.

Collectively, these strategies form a comprehensive approach to plastic waste management that minimizes environmental impact and supports sustainability.

The management of plastic waste is more than just dealing with the waste itself—it’s about rethinking our relationship with plastics. By understanding and actively participating in waste management practices, we can all contribute to a healthier planet and a sustainable future. As we continue to innovate and implement effective management strategies, the vision of restored natural beauty and healthier ecosystems is within reach, ensuring that the disturbing scenes of pollution become a thing of the past.

Also Read: How Do You Measure Plastic Footprint?



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