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Recycling Plastic with Plastic

The United Nations has been observing Global Earth Day on April 22 since 2009, aimed at raising awareness to environmental quality and addressing the climate crisis. This year’s central theme is a global commitment to reducing plastic use by 60% by the year 2040.The United Nations has been observing Global Earth Day on April 22 since 2009, aimed at raising awareness to environmental quality and addressing the climate crisis. This year’s central theme is a global commitment to reducing plastic use by 60% by the year 2040.

The Global Plastic Treaty calls for worldwide action to reduce the environmental damage caused by plastic pollution. This includes environmental degradation, the reduction of biodiversity, and impacts on human health. The Treaty urges organizations to commit, among other things, to a 60% reduction in plastic production from fossil fuels by 2040, to require plastic manufacturers and retailers to bear the cost of environmental and health damages (“producer pays” principle”), to invest in innovation for alternatives to fossil fuel-based plastics, to ban the export of plastic waste, and to stop the incineration of plastic waste.

The call raises many questions. Why focus specifically on plastic when the use of “natural” materials like wood, glass, and metal also leads to environmental pollution and the exploitation of natural resources? Does every type of plastic cause environmental harm? How do we reduce plastic use when it is found in almost everything? What types of plastic can be recycled, and how?

Why Plastic?

The production of plastic involves industrial processes that are based on raw materials that mostly come from crude oil, which undergoes chemical and physical processing in order to create the plastic material. These manufacturing processes emit greenhouse gases and other pollutants into the atmosphere. In addition, the production of plastic demands natural resources, promotes dependence on fossil fuels and contributes to global warming. Plastic does not degrade easily and can remain in the environment for hundreds or even thousands of years.

Despite increasing discussions about a circular economy, humanity is backsliding  – only 7.2% of the global economy was circular in 2023, down from 9.1% in 2018. In Israel, waste production has increased by about 60% between 2003 and 2021 (15% per capita), with plastic waste making up 18% of the weight of all domestic waste. Unlike developed countries, Israel recycles only 7% of its plastic waste, compared to 39% in the OECD countries.

Efficient recycling processes, the development of sustainable plastics, and the reduction of plastic use are part of the solutions to minimize these damages.

Recycling Plastic

The most common method for recycling plastic is mechanical recycling, which includes collecting, sorting, and cleaning waste, followed by processing to produce new products. Chemical recycling allows for the creation of new products from decomposed plastic components. There is also biological recycling which breaks down the plastic through the use of microorganisms, though this technology is still under development.

Non-recyclable plastics can be used as an energy source, but it is crucial to ensure that the process is environmentally friendly.

Through recycling and reusing products, we can reduce the need for new plastic production. Most waste is sent to landfills, and some is used as alternative fuel in industry. Currently, Israel’s overall recycling rate is only 7%, but there are plans to increase it.

Alternative materials used in industry include wood, iron, and glass. However, the use of these materials is also accompanied by environmental damages resulting from mining, production, and processing, which constitute harmful exploitation of natural resources.

Plastic has several advantages that make it a useful material: it is a lightweight material, and resistant to corrosion and weather. Plastic is impervious to water and air, and therefore it is used in food packaging. It can be designed into a wide variety of shapes and products, and this feature gives it great flexibility in designing new products.

Keter Pioneers Global Plastic Reduction Initiatives

The Keter Company, the largest manufacturer of home and garden products in the world, realized many years ago that with size comes responsibility. Several years ago, Keter began a series of proactive measures regarding the reduction of plastic waste, not only in its manufacturing plants, but also in communities in Israel and around the world. In 2021, Keter began a first pilot of its kind that began in Kiryat Ono to proactively collect and recycle plastic from the city’s residents. Products such as laundry baskets, furniture and storage boxes were left by the residents on the city sidewalks, then collected , sorted, and recycled. As part of the pilot project, the residents get rid of their plastic waste; Keter transfers the waste for compaction, sorting and shredding, resulting in recycled raw material to be used to produce new products, some of which will be returned to the residents.

The project is currently taking place in the city of Karmiel and the collection in the city is carried out with the help of red collection containers, which are placed throughout the city. The project is a success, and the weight of the collected products steadily increases every year by tens of percent.

Studio Keter

Udi Sagi and Iftach Sachar, co-heads of Keter Israel, talk about Keter’s vision to do good for the world through the proactive collection of plastic and its recycling, with the vision of a circular economy, to collect and recycle plastic and return it as raw material to industry.

In fact, all Keter products are reusable and recyclable and on average over 40% of the raw material used by Keter comes from recycled sources. Keter does not stop there, and it has set itself the goal of increasing this number to 55% by the year 2025.

Keter understands the need for education on recycling multi-use plastics as a part of awareness programs, such as the joint initiative with the Scout Movement. This initiative includes the collection of multi-use plastic waste that would otherwise be landfilled, and its transfer for recycling. It started as a pilot with a couple of local scout troops and expanded to scout troops in other cities including Netanya, Tel Aviv, Kfar Saba, Holon, Rishon LeZion, and other communities across the country. As part of this collaboration, nearly 2 tons of multi-use plastic products have been collected to date and transferred for recycling. The collection points at the scout troops are open to the public.

Additionally, Keter has expanded the use of sustainable raw materials in its products, which enables a reduction in carbon emissions from production. This approach allows Keter to achieve its sustainability goals in a shorter timeframe. Including reducing carbon emissions from production by 25% by 2025, achieving zero waste to landfill from production, and using at least 55% recycled materials on average across all Keter products.

Among the products made from recycled materials (for which Keter has registered intellectual property protection through the patent attorneys Cohn, de Vries, Stadler & Co.  are a sunbed made of 85% recycled material, a beverage cooling storage unit made of 65% recycled materials, recycling bins, as well as containers and boxes made from 100% recycled plastic.

The Global Plastic Treaty calls for a global solution to pollution, demands environmental accountability from producers, and encourages innovation to replace fossil fuel-based plastics. By 2040, will these goals be achieved? There is no doubt that the global community’s involvement, although varied, is crucial for implementing recycling solutions. Without community involvement, tailored legislation, and enforcement, these goals cannot be achieved, but it is evident that more organizations are joining the effort.

In this context, it is important to note that the State of Israel has implemented the “Extended Producer Responsibility” law, which imposes responsibility on producers and importers for the entire lifecycle of products, including post-consumer treatment. In Israel, five extended responsibility laws deal with various types of waste (beverage containers, tires, packaging, electrical and electronic equipment and batteries, and plastic shopping bags). This is alongside encouraging corporate-initiated responsibility in all that relates to environmental conservation and meeting global targets for reducing pollution.

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