Disposal of plastic waste has emerged as an important environmental challenge in the Middle East where plastics make up as much as one-tenth of the solid waste stream. In affluent GCC nations, plastic waste composition in municipal solid waste is around 12 – 16 percent. Plastic waste in the region is continuously increasing due to increasing use of plastics in daily life. The Middle East is responsible for about 8 percent of the global plastic production.
Plastic waste is a source of greenhouse gas emissions and ecological damage. Majority of the items found on beaches across the region contain plastic which pose a serious danger to marine life. Plastic waste disposal is a major challenge due to non-biodegradable nature of plastics and such wastes are visibly present in landfill sites for a long time.
Recycling of Plastics
Recycling of plastics is one of the best methods for sustainable disposal of plastic wastes. Unfortunately, plastic is much more difficult to recycle than materials like glass, aluminum or paper. A common problem with recycling plastics is that plastics are often made up of more than one kind of polymer or there may be some sort of fibre added to the plastic (a composite).
Plastic polymers require greater processing to be recycled as each type melts at different temperatures and has different properties, so careful separation is necessary. Moreover, most plastics are not highly compatible with one another. Apart from familiar applications like recycling bottles and industrial packaging film, there are also new developments like covering pipes, window frames, roofing membranes and flooring.
Commonly Recyclable Plastics
- High Density Polyethylene (HDPE) used in piping, automotive fuel tanks, bottles, toys,
- Low Density Polyethylene (LDPE) used in plastic bags, cling film, flexible containers;
- Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET) used in bottles, carpets and food packaging;
- Polypropylene (PP) used in food containers, battery cases, bottle crates, automotive parts and fibres;
- Polystyrene (PS) used in dairy product containers, tape cassettes, cups and plates;
- Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) used in window frames, flooring, bottles, packaging film, cable insulation, credit cards and medical products
Five Steps in Plastics Recycling
- Collection: This is done through roadside collections, special recycling bins and directly from industries that use a lot of plastic.
- Sorting: At this stage nails and stones are removed, and the plastic is sorted into three types: PET, HDPE and ‘other’.
- Chipping: The sorted plastic is cut into small pieces ready to be melted down.
- Washing: This stage removes contaminants such as paper labels, dirt and remnants of the product originally contained in the plastic.
- Pelletization: The plastic is then melted down and extruded into small pellets ready for reuse.
Polyethlene terephthalate (PET) and high density polyethylene (HDPE) bottles have high recyclability and are an integral part of most curbside and drop-off recycling programs. Recycled PET and HDPE have many uses and well-established markets. The growth of bottle recycling has been facilitated by the development of processing technologies that increase product purities and reduce operational costs.
In contrast, recycling of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) bottles and other materials is limited. A major problem in the recycling of PVC is the high chlorine content in raw PVC (around 56 percent of the polymer’s weight) and the high levels of hazardous additives added to the polymer to achieve the desired material quality. As a result, PVC requires separation from other plastics before mechanical recycling.
Plastic Recycling in the Middle East
Plastic recycling is still in early stages in the Middle East. Some countries have started plastic waste collection programs but their efficacy is yet to be ascertained as most of the collected waste is still sent to countries, like China and India, for recycling. In recent years, several government initiatives have been launched and plastic recycling centers have been established in UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar etc. which is a welcome development.
Apart from infrastructural roadblocks, lack of awareness and low level of community participation are major factors behind increasing generation of plastic wastes. The staggering amount of plastic wastes generated in the Middle East demands a concerted effort from policy-makers and urban planners to devise an effective plastic waste collection and recycling strategy to tackle the menace of plastic wastes.