Journals / JRM / Vol.9, No.8


Research Article

BEST PAPER 2021

Life Cycle Assessment of Recycling High-Density Polyethylene Plastic Waste

Neeti Gandhi1,3, Nicholas Farfaras2, Nien-Hwa Linda Wang3, Wan-Ting Chen2,*
1 Department of Chemical Engineering, Virginia Polytechnic and State Institute, Blacksburg, 24061, USA
2 Department of Plastics Engineering, University of Massachusetts Lowell, Lowell, 01854, USA
3 School of Chemical Engineering, Purdue University, West Lafayette, 47907, USA
* Corresponding Author: Wan-Ting Chen. Email:
(This article belongs to this Special Issue: Plastic waste management towards a sustainable future)

Abstract

Increasing production and use of various novel plastics products, a low recycling rate, and lack of effective recycling/disposal methods have resulted in an exponential growth in plastic waste accumulation in landfills and in the environment. To better understand the effects of plastic waste, Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) was done to compare the effects of various production and disposal methods. LCA shows the specific effects of the cradle-to-grave or cradle-to-cradle scenarios for landfill, incineration, and mechanical recycling. The analysis clearly indicates that increasing recycling of plastics can significantly save energy and eliminate harmful emissions of various carcinogens and GHGs into the environment. As recycling increases, the need for virgin-plastic production can be greatly reduced. Furthermore, the results of this study may help improve current mechanical recycling processes as well as potential future recycling methods, such as chemical recycling. Concerns about the current recycling/disposal methods for plastics have brought increasing attention to the waste accumulation problem. However, with the current COVID-19 pandemic, plastic accumulation is expected to increase significantly in the near future. A better understanding of the quantitative effects of the various disposal methods can help guide policies and future research toward effective solutions of the plastic waste problem.

Keywords

Life Cycle Analysis (LCA); mechanical recycling; microplastic; chemical recycling; plastic policy
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