Stopping plastic waste from entering the ocean starts with prevention

The most effective method to stop something from happening is prevention. This is especially true when it comes to plastic waste. Once items such as consumer packaging make their way to a landfill, the chances of it ending up in rivers, streams and eventually the ocean increases exponentially. The negative impact this has is massive.

Roughly eight million metric tons of plastic ends up in the ocean every year, adding to the estimated 150 million metric tons already found in the world’s oceans. This does untold damage to marine ecosystems, including harming food supplies, killing wildlife and damaging beautiful landscapes.

Of course, something has to be done with plastic if it’s not being sent to a landfill. What many people don’t know is that plastic waste has value. It is an excellent source of energy for cement kilns in the form of refuse-derived fuel (RDF) which can then be co-processed.

Co-processing sees waste materials destroyed through high temperatures and long residence times in a cement kiln with no residues or remains leftover. The process is a Zero Waste to Landfill solution that totally eliminates certain types of plastics. The benefits don’t stop there. RDF is a replacement for fossil fuels and other single-use materials which reduces greenhouse gas emissions.

It is a win-win scenario, albeit one that hasn’t been easy to realize. That’s because obtaining the RDF needed for co-processing can be a challenge. Especially in areas that do not have organized waste collection and sorting systems in place.  

Looking to take action, INSEE Ecocycle launched its MSW-RDF Project in 2017 that aimed to extract plastic waste from dumpsites and use it as RDF in its cement kilns. The project, which is still going strong, sees landfills mined for materials suitable for RDF.

While work here is important, this method does face a major obstacle. It is a much more complex way to process and recover energy since materials can be contaminated when mixed with other waste types. That means it’s impossible to remove all plastics once they are in a landfill. If the full potential of RDF is going to be reached, it requires collection at the source.

"By preventing materials that can be used in co-processing, such as single-use plastics, from ever entering a landfill, there is no risk of these polluting the ocean"

Beach pollution. Plastic bottles and other trash on the beach. Ecological problem

Unlocking the full potential of RDF

By preventing materials that can be used in co-processing, such as single-use plastics, from ever entering a landfill, there is no risk of these polluting the ocean. There is also a chance for greater volumes of RDF to be recovered since plastics won’t have the opportunity to mingle with other products.

This is what led INSEE Ecocycle to create the RDF Drop-off program. The scheme sets up collection points for non-recyclable materials with a focus on single use plastics, such as straws and food packaging. Instead of being tossed in the trash and hauled off to the landfill, the RDF process can begin immediately.

Collected waste is transported to a facility where it is segregated, shredded, inspected and then used in co-processing. This is a far less time-consuming method to gather and treat RDF. Importantly, nothing ends up in the dump through prevention efforts.   

There is also an important grassroots element to the RDF Drop-off program that allows everyone to participate in Zero Waste to Landfill activities. While the public is now more aware of ocean pollution, many people don’t know how they can help. The reduction of plastic use is a start, but sometimes it is impossible to eliminate entirely.

INSEE Ecocycle is collaborating with partners to increase participation in the RDF Drop-off program. One example of this in action is a partnership with Bank of Ayudhya (Krungsri). Two of the bank’s offices have set up RDF drop-off points. A focus was placed on education with office maids trained on how to monitor and segregate waste in order to ensure successful implementation. The result means harmful materials are prevented from ever entering the ecosystem once disposed of.

Greater awareness of solutions through collaborative projects, such as the RDF Drop-off program, ensures prevention, instead of reaction, becomes standard. Ultimately, that is the most effective and far-reaching way to unlock the full potential of RDF and successful tackle the challenge of plastic waste disposal.

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