The previous section highlighted the different forms of plastics recycling and noted that some parties differentiate plastics recycling for material recovery from plastics recycling for fuel or energy recovery by designating energy recover and sometimes fuel recovery as resource recovery rather than recycling. As noted above, Japan usually includes thermal recycling in its definition of plastics recycling, while Germany does not. Responsible arguments can be made on both sides of this discussion. In the final analysis, what is most important globally is resource conservation. Figure 14.1 shows a general classification of resource management options for postuse plastics. Depending on the particular region of the world, some options, and not others, may provide a better balance of environmental benefit and economic sustainability.
In the final analysis, plastics recycling should not be looked at in isolation but in the broad context of overall societal needs and ecological benefits. Because polymers can be recovered in so many ways compared to glass or metals — as fiber, fuel, energy, plastic resins, monomers, other chemical feedstocks, or syngas, for example, they have the ability to integrate into many industrial and commercial processes . Integrated resource management (IRM) is the utilization of a range of recovery methods and disposal options that best meets local requirements. When postuse plastic serves the chemical, energy, or material needs of another industry, the end result is called integrated resource management across industries. This is becoming a long-term goal in many regions of the world. One example is the use of postconsumer and postindustrial plastics as a reductant and fuel in steel mill blast furnaces discussed briefly in a later section of this chapter. The goals of IRM are resource conservation, waste minimization, and progress toward sustainable development.
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