Of all plastics produced, merely 10 to 16 percent end up being recycled. The rest accumulates in landfills or is incinerated for energy recovery. Until recently, household and industrial waste were exported to China, India, and South-East Asian countries. These countries are preferred destinations for the recycling process because they offer labor at a low cost.
Given the sheer volume of waste streams originating from the United States, Europe, and Australia, finding ways to reduce the cost and time-consuming process of sorting and separating is vital. Large numbers of plastic waste shipments are now being turned away as a consequence of reversals and changes in the legislation of many of the waste importing countries. Therefore, the efforts to recycle plastics need to increase on a global level with an onus placed on those countries currently exporting large volumes of plastic waste.
The technique of changing the chemical structure of plastic waste and converting it into shorter molecules means that plastics can be subjected to chemical or feedstock recycling. The resulting monomers can then be utilized for new chemical reactions. Mechanical recycling is the process of generating a re-granulate from the waste material without the need to alter or change its chemical structure.
Plastic recycling is a complicated affair and not as easy as recycling metals, which have various densities, distinctive electrical and magnetic properties, and even completely different colors. Therefore, humans and machines find it much easier to separate metals from one another and other materials. However, plastics are a different challenge altogether.