Plastic Recycling in the Gulf Region

The new Gulf Packaging and Polymers Show (GPPS) in Abu Dhabi, which took place from February 1 to 3 this year,  was launched for the packaging industry in the Middle East to serve a market worth billions of US-Dollar.

According to a market research by Smithers Pira, headquartered in Surrey (United Kingdom), the packaging sector in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region is forecasted to grow to 52.4 billion US-Dollar by 2019 from the current level of 41 billion US -Dollar. Prior to this event, the media reported that in the member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) – a political and economic union of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Qatar, Bahrain and Oman – ten percent of used plastic is recycled.

This rate is most likely to increase, because the Middle East packaging market is growing at a fast pace, reported Dr. R. Rangaprasad, director of SIES School of Packaging & Packaging Technology Center in Mumbai (India), in an interview with GPPS. According to the expert, the packaging industry in the UAE, one of the largest in the Middle East and North Africa, is expected to be worth 2.3 billion US-Dollar by 2016, a study with regard to the sector in the UAE found. “A recently published report on the packaging industry in the UAE compiled and published by BRICK DATA indicates that the industry will see commendable growth in the coming years“, he told GPPS. According to the report, the country’s GDP (Gross Domestic Product) would rise to 80,084 US-Dollar in 2016, “which indicates that there will be a huge increase in domestic consumption and activities in export market”.

Benefits of plastic recycling

Dr. R. Rangaprasad supports the concept of recycling, because there are a lot of benefits. One good reason to recycle plastic is that recycling plastics reduces the amount of energy and natural resources (such as water, petroleum and natural) needed to create virgin plastic. “According to the American Plastics Council, the production of plastics accounts for four percent of U.S. energy consumption, and 70 percent of plastics in the United States are made from domestic natural gas,” he told GPPS. “Recycling plastic products also keeps them out of landfills and allows the plastics to be reused in manufacturing new products. Recycling one ton of plastic saves 7.4 cubic-yards of landfill space.”

But there are boundaries: “Effective recycling of mixed plastics waste is a major challenge for the plastics recycling sector. The advantage is the ability to recycle a larger proportion of the plastic waste stream by expanding post-consumer collection of plastic packaging to cover a wider variety of materials and pack types. Product design for recycling has strong potential to assist in such recycling efforts”, Dr. R. Rangaprasad said. “Hence, wider implementation of policies to promote the use of environmental design principles by industry could have a large impact on recycling performance, increasing the proportion of packaging that can economically be collected and diverted from landfill. The same logic applies to durable consumer goods designing for disassembly, recycling and specifications for use of recycled resins are key actions to increase recycling.”

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Most post-consumer collection schemes are for rigid packaging as flexible packaging tends to be problematic during the collection and sorting stages, he told GPPS. “Most current material recovery facilities have difficulty handling flexible plastic packaging because of the different handling characteristics of rigid packaging. The low weight-to-volume ratio of films and plastic bags also makes it less economically viable to invest in the necessary collection and sorting facilities. However, plastic films are currently recycled from sources including secondary packaging such as shrink-wrap of pallets and boxes and some agricultural films, so this is feasible under the right conditions. Approaches to increasing the recycling of films and flexible packaging could include separate collection, or investment in extra sorting and processing facilities at recovery facilities for handling mixed plastic wastes. In order to have successful recycling of mixed plastics, high-performance sorting of the input materials needs to be performed to ensure that plastic types are separated to high levels of purity; there is, however, a need for the further development of end-markets for each polymer recyclate stream.”

According to the expert, the effectiveness of post-consumer packaging recycling could be dramatically increased if the diversity of materials were to be rationalized to a subset of current usage. “For example, if rigid plastic containers ranging from bottles, jars to trays were all PET, HDPE and PP, without clear PVC or PS, which are problematic to sort from co-mingled recyclables, then all rigid plastic packaging could be collected and sorted to make recycled resins with minimal cross-contamination. The losses of rejected material and the value of the recycled resins would be enhanced. In addition, labels and adhesive materials should be selected to maximize recycling performance. Improvements in sorting/separation within recycling plants give further potential for both higher recycling volumes, and better eco-efficiency by decreasing waste fractions, energy and water use. The goals should be to maximize both the volume and quality of recycled resins.”

Photo: Karim Schwanke