Recycling industry in the dumps

By Malik Gunatilleke

Falling international crude oil prices have resulted in a drastic drop in price of imported virgin plastic and these products are being preferred by buyers over locally manufactured recycled material.

Many of the leading local recyclers claim sales have dropped by as much as 70% on some recycled material as there has been a drop in price of imported material by as much as 50%during the past few months.

Project Director of the National Post Consumer Plastic Waste Management Project, Roshan Gunawardena said virgin plastic prices have reduced from Rs.300 per kg just a few months ago to as little as Rs. 170 to Rs. 110 per kg.

“Crude oil hit a high of US$ 147 last year and now it varies between US $ 40 to $50 per barrel. Because of this raw material prices have also fallen dramatically,” he said.

PA collection centre, garbage collection from residences and recycling of plastic in progress

As a result the low price and superior quality of imported virgin plastic the local recycling industry was suffering from a lack of sales he added.

Local authorities and Urban Councils have been instructed by the Central Environmental Authority (CEA) to collect and separate garbage in the area before being transported to CEA recommended recycling plants.

The CEA states response from the public has been satisfactory with production of recycled material and collected materials having doubled during the past year.

Chairman of the CEA, Udaya Gammanpila said since June 2007, the amount of collected recyclable plastic had increased from 268 tons to more than 468 tons per month.

“Materials such as plastic have reduced the usage of harmful metals and has greatly reduced the necessity for cutting down trees, but growing public concern over the ill-effects of plastic has resulted in a good response from the people,” he said.

He added in most areas, garbage collectors were allowed to divide and sell portion of the plastic, glass and metal they collected to gain additional income.

Anura Jasunthaliyana owner of Eco Sans Plastic (Pvt) Ltd said the industry was facing hard times due to large quantities of imported material entering the market and a lack of support from the government toward the local industry.

This in turn he said affected payments made to collectors. According to Mr. Jasunthaliyana garbage collectors and members of the public were paid around Rs. 35 per kg for used plastic material, but now most of the local recyclers could now afford to pay only around Rs. 15 per kg.

“This industry has been around for the past 10 to 12 years and has given a lot to the country by way of recycling environmentally unfriendly material. However, with the waiving of certain taxes on imported plastic and virgin plastic, local companies were struggling to keep up,” he said.

Most of the local companies do part of the recycling in the country but for final stages of recycling they look to China and India where energy costs are not as high. Mr. Jasunthaliyana said due to the prevailing situation, waste material collected and produced by his company had dropped from 50 tons a month to a mere 10 tons per month.

“Buyers prefer to purchase imported plastic instead of recycled plastic and it’s too difficult to compete with their prices” he said.

He added around 30% to 40% of the recyclable material in Sri Lanka was collected by local companies for this purpose. However collection had dropped to around 10% due to a fall in demand.

He warned the problem would worsen if the industry crashed as there would be insufficient space to dump environmentally unfriendly material. Purchasing Director George de Silva of Poly-cycle Pvt. Ltd based in Mulleriyawa, said there had been a severe drop in business over the past few months because of the cheaper alternatives in the market.

“We produce around 1000-1,100 kg of recycled plastic each day. We receive raw material and used plastic from members of the public some of whom make a living off of it,” he said.

He said the company had reduced prices on the final product from Rs. 150 to Rs. 130 per kg while they paid between Rs. 20 to Rs. 85 per kg to those who handed over used plastics.

Meanwhile, A.S. Illiyas President of the Waste Recyclers Association and Plas Techs (Pvt) Ltd said the industry had taken a severe blow after the recent drop in price of international crude oil. He said some recyclers had stopped paying for plastic waste they received unless it was of a very high quality.

Plastic: The environment and pollution

Environmentalists point out polythene bags have environmental implications from cradle to grave. While polythene bags made from virgin plastic is accepted as user friendly, the problem arises when plastic is recycled for repeated use.

The basic question is whether polythene bags should at all be manufactured using recycled materials, and if so what grade -first, second, third and so on. For consumer acceptance, recycled material of the first grade should be used. In respect of other cases when second grade material is used, they will find greater acceptance by blending virgin and recycled plastic in a 50: 50 ratio.

Polythene bags manufactured using third and lower grade recycled materials are unacceptable and are the main environmental culprits. In respect of health and medicare items, there is the possibility of organised picking around hospitals and garbage dumps, stringent environmental legislation for management of bio- medical wastes, including plastic waste, needs to be in place. In India for instance the "Recycled Plastic Manufacture and Usage Rules, 1999'' law requires that carrybags or containers used for purposes of storing shall be made of virgin plastic and be in natural shade or white.

These items when made of recycled plastic, used for purposes other than storing and packaging of foodstuffs shall use pigments and colourants as per Indian Standards. (Courtesy Hindu )

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Recycling industry in the dumps


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