SWEDEN – Sweden has opened a new state-of-the-art plastic sorting facility, the largest of its kind and big enough to receive all plastic packaging waste generated from Swedish households.

Nestled in the heart of Motala, the Site Zero plant boasts state-of-the-art technology capable of sorting a staggering 200,000 tonnes of plastic packaging annually, as affirmed by Sweden Plastic Recycling—a non-profit entity jointly owned by Swedish plastics, food, and trade industry groups.

This facility surpasses any other of its kind globally, marking a groundbreaking leap in the realm of recycling.

Compared to its predecessor, Site Zero represents a twofold increase in plastic recycling efficiency.

Mattias Philipsson, CEO of Sweden Plastic Recycling, elucidated that the former plant, limited to sorting merely five types of plastic, managed to channel only 47% of the material for recycling, while the remainder met incineration.

The new facility, however, is poised to elevate this figure significantly, aiming to redirect up to 95% of the packaging for recycling purposes, thereby minimizing the quantity subjected to incineration—a process that contributes to climate change by introducing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

This development arrives amid a global surge in plastic production, surpassing 430 million tonnes annually, a majority of which comprises short-lived products contributing to ocean pollution and infiltrating the human food chain, as detailed in the U.N. Environment Program’s report.

Projections indicate a tripling of global plastic waste by 2060, with nearly half destined for landfills and less than one-fifth undergoing recycling.

In response, efforts to forge a landmark treaty addressing global plastic pollution are underway in Nairobi, Kenya, convening nations, petrochemical companies, environmental advocates, and stakeholders affected by this pervasive issue.

Within the Site Zero facility, the relentless hum of machinery echoes as conveyor belts transport 40 tonnes per hour of assorted plastic waste through the intricate web of the factory.

This labyrinthine complex, sprawled across 60,000 square meters, employs a fully automated process leveraging infrared cameras to disassemble, categorize by size, and meticulously sort materials like chocolate wrappers, plastic bags, yogurt containers, and white polystyrene.

Åsa Stenmarck from the Swedish Environment Protection Agency lauds this innovation as a “game changer,” emphasizing not only the sophistication of the sorting process but also the conviction in finding a viable market for all 12 types of plastic identified by the facility.

While Sweden sets the bar high in plastics recycling, Robert Blasiak, a researcher at the Stockholm Resilience Center, notes that waste management in many parts of the world lags significantly behind.

Once sorted, plastic can undergo traditional mechanical recycling or a chemical method, using heat or solvents to break down plastics into liquid and gas, producing an oil-like mixture or basic chemicals.

While industry leaders advocate for converting this mixture back into plastic pellets for new products, environmental groups caution against over-reliance on chemical recycling, advocating for reduced plastic production and consumption.

Philipsson acknowledges that the enhanced sorting facility’s success hinges on households effectively segregating their waste—a crucial step in augmenting Sweden’s plastic recycling efforts.

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