How Aluminium Can Solve the Plastic Pollution Problem in the World

Contributed by: Anonymous
March 15, 2021

The environmental impact of plastics has been receiving increased attention recently however the problem has been identified long back. Plastics came into use in 1950's and by 1970-80's the issue of plastic waste came into existence. Globally it has been one of the most pressing concerns in recent times and the growing use & manufacturing of “virgin plastics” are actually adding to it.

Plastics are mostly used in packaging and manufacturing industry and typically there are two types of issues that have made the matter worst. First of all, plastics cannot be recycled, they can technically be downcycled only. This actually uses ~90% virgin-based plastics & hence most plastic that finally gets recycled is often made into carpet, clothes or other fibres. Secondly, even that downcycling to happen, the plastic waste has to be extremely clean & uncontaminated. This has been the reason of China's import ban of inferior plastic waste.

Plastic waste could be significantly reduced, though not eliminated, using existing technologies. That includes improving waste collection and recycling, redesigning products to eliminate packaging made from unrecyclable plastics, expanding refillable, and in some cases substituting other materials. But solutions such as recycling, now globally hovering around 12 percent, would also require a massive scaling-up with many additional recycling facilities that don't exist.

Now as we discuss the recycling issue and substituting plastic with other materials, aluminium can answer most of the questions. Recycling aluminium requires 95% less energy, and produces 95% fewer Greenhouse Gas Emissions (GHG), than manufacturing primary aluminium. That is a GHG saving equivalent to taking 900,000 cars off the road for 12 months. The aluminium beverage can is the world’s most recycled packaging container. A used aluminium beverage can can be recycled, reprocessed, remade and ready for re-sale in around 60 days. In a whole year, that one can could be recycled eight times, saving enough energy to make 160 new cans.

Although fewer aluminium bottles might be found in oceans, aluminium bottles production comes at its own cost. The amount of carbon dioxide pumped into the air is double the amount in comparison to the production of plastic bottles.

Some well- known global companies such as Danone, Coca-Cola, and Nestle are successfully launching sales of aluminium water bottles. Overall, food and beverage industries have been attempting to implement eco-friendly product production, using aluminium. In manufacturing industry as well, companies like Apple have been making strides in this space. But switching over to aluminium from plastic "partly solves one problem (less plastic) but creates a new problem (more aluminium)," Thomas Kinnaman, a professor of economics at Bucknell University who researches global recycling trends. "They could put water in solid gold containers (very easy to recycle), but that wouldn't be best, right?"

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