The European Union generates over 1 400 million tons of waste per year. This is over 500 kg per capita! 40 million tons of the waste is dangerous for the environment.

Around 2020 Europe will produce 45 % more waste than it did in 1995.

Recycling industry provides more and more of the resources for production- at least 50% of the paper and steel, 43% of the glass and 40% of the non-ferrous alloys produced in EU are made of recycled materials.

The extraction and use of natural resources lead to a shortage of basic raw materials. The shortage of energy resources to meet the needs of humanity is also a significant obstacle. Hence, there is a resource, energy and environmental issue.

Waste treatment.

In what way

  • Household waste
  • Paper
  • Plastic
  • Glass
  • Ferrous and non-ferrous metals.

In the process of composting food waste is decomposed in the presence of air, creating rich compost (fertilizer), with the release of an insignificant amount of methane. Unlike it, air fails to reach food waste disposed at dumping sites and the result is the release of methane, which is a potent greenhouse gas.

The issue in monetary terms
According to a survey assigned by the European Commission, the full implementation of EU waste legislation will lead to savings of EUR 72 billion a year, to an increase in the annual turnover of the waste management and recycling sector by 42 billion and to the creation of over 400 000 new jobs by 2020.

Introduction: The earliest known paper, made from papyrus plants, was produced by the Egyptians in 2,200 BC. The Chinese invented a different method of papermaking more than 2,000 years ago. Chinese paper-makers made paper from rags, hemp and the bark of mulberry trees. The idea spread first to the Middle East and eventually was introduced to Europe in the 12th Century. For many centuries, European paper was made by hand from rags and straw, but as the world demand for paper grew, ground wood chips became the main source of fibre. With the introduction of mechanised paper making machines in the 18th century, paper became a cheap and readily available material.

Manufacturing: The main raw material for paper today is wood pulp derived from wood chips, either from short fibred hardwoods (eg eucalypts) or long-fibred softwoods (eg pines). Some paper is made using cotton fibres.

All paper and cardboard is made in much the same way. The wood chips are first treated to release the fibres in one of three ways: mechanical, chemical or a combination of mechanical and chemical processes. These processes produce an intermediate stage called pulp. To make paper, the pulp is mixed with water to make slurry which is passed over a continuous, rapidly moving mesh. The water in the pulp is drawn through the mesh, leaving the fibers behind on the mesh. The damp paper is then passed over a series of rollers to flatten and dry it. In some cases, substances like starch are added to the surface of the paper to give it certain required characteristics. At the end of the process, the paper is rolled onto huge spools. The paper or cardboard formed in this way is then sent to other factories where it is cut to the required size and shape. Corrugated cardboard is made by laminating a fluted sheet of cardboard between two flat sheets of cardboard.

Recycling: Unlike the process of making paper from virgin materials, making paper from waste paper rarely requires chemical pre-treatment. The waste paper is mixed with water in a machine that looks like giant blender and converted into thin slurry of individual fibres. This slurry is treated to remove contaminants such as plastic, string and paper clips using sophisticated screening techniques. It is then made into paper in the same way as making paper from virgin material.

Paper can be recycled into a wide variety of paper and other cellulose products. Contamination problems limit its reuse in food packaging such as milk cartons, and the degradation of fibres (during recycling) means that used paper is generally "down graded" as it is recycled. Thus, old newspapers cannot be used to produce high quality printing and writing papers, but they can be used in applications requiring mechanical pulp, such as newsprint and tissue.

The degradation of fibres during recycling also limits the number of times that a particular paper fibre can be recycled. Adding some virgin fibre or good quality waste fibres to the recycled pulp can improve the quality of the recycled product.

Although old newspapers have been used for many years to make packaging materials, until recently they were not used to make recycled newsprint. This was because of difficulties with the de-inking process. Now this has been made possible by using a mixture of old newspapers and magazines and virgin pulp. In some plants soaps are used to remove the inks.

Did you know that: Currently some 90% of the cellulose is obtained from wood. Over 40% of all felled trees are used for producing paper. The recycling of one ton of paper saves 16 trees from felling; it reduces power consumption by 25 to 60%; it saves approximately 32,000 liters of water and about 4 MWh of electricity – an amount that is enough to power a European home for a whole year.

Introduction: Plastic is a relatively new material. It was invented by Alexander Parkes in 1860 but only in recent decades it has become commonly used. However, it has quickly become a popular material.

Manufacturing: Plastics are made mainly from crude oil, gas and coal. Much of the raw material for plastics comes from waste in petroleum refining, some of which would otherwise be flared off and wasted.

Plastics are polymers, that is, long chain molecules made from smaller molecules called monomers. The polymers are made in large vessels under special conditions of temperature and pressure, using special catalysts. At this stage polymers are in the form of resin pellets or powders.

There are about 40 different plastics or polymers used today and each has a different chemical composition and set of properties that make it suitable for certain applications.

Plastic products are made in three stages:

  1. Resin pellets or powders are heated to soften them.
  2. The softened material is formed into a certain shape.
  3. The product is cooled, retaining the shape.

To help identify plastics, manufacturers stamp a Plastics Identification Code on their products. This code is a number inside a triangle with chasing arrows. These codes only identify the product and do not indicate that the product can be recycled. The most commonly used plastics are those with codes 1 to 6.

There are several ways that plastic products are formed. These include injection moulding (for specially shaped objects, such as cups, toys and plumbing fittings), extrusion moulding (for plastic sheets, pipes and tubes) and blow moulding (to make bottles and drums). Other techniques are used to manufacture fibres, biscuit trays, margarine tubs and foam trays.

Recycling: Plastics collected for recycling must first be sorted and separated into polymer types. The codes help to sort the plastics. Bales of different types of plastic waste are then handed to factories for reprocessing. To reprocess the plastic:

  • Large contaminants are manually removed;
  • The plastics are either shredded, chopped or ground and then washed to remove further contaminants; 
  • The material is dried and formed into pellets or powder, ready for remaking into new plastic products.

Did you know that: Plastic decays for 400 years. Recycling of one ton of plastic saves 2.2 tons of oil and 7.2 MWh of electricity.

Introduction: The discovery of glass dates back to the Phoenicians more than 5,000 years ago. It is believed that the Egyptians invented the technique of hand blowing glass bottles in the first century BC. For 2,000 years, hand blowing continued to be the principal way of making glass bottles. However, during the last hundred years or so, mechanised glass blowing techniques have revolutionised the production of glass containers, allowing bottles to be produced quickly and cheaply. Today, glass containers are widely used to package a huge array of foods and drinks.

Manufacturing: The three main raw materials used to make glass containers were sand (to provide silica), soda ash (to reduce the melting point) and limestone (to increase hardness). Now, crushed glass, called cullet, is the major raw material for glass manufacturing. Other ingredients are used in small amounts, the proportions of each depending on the type of glass required.

To make glass containers the mix of ingredients, known as a batch, is fed continuously into furnaces and melted at about 1,500oC. The molten glass from the furnaces is then conveyed to moulding machines where globules of glass are dropped into moulds. Air is blown into the hot globules to form bottles, which are cooled slowly.

Recycling: Bottles and jars collected in recycling schemes are sorted manually at recycling depots into clear, amber and green glass. Contaminants such as metals, plastic, china, ceramics and stones are removed, and the glass is crushed. The cullet is used to make new glass containers.

Did you know that: In practice glass does not wear out and can be processed forever. Recycling of one ton of glass saves 720 kg of quartz sand, 180 kg of calcium oxide, 300 kg soda ash, 200 kg of fuel oil and 530 kWh electricity.

Metals can be recycled an unlimited number of times without losing their physical properties.

Ferrous metals: steel

Introduction: Although tin-plated steel cans are widely used today as strong containers for preserving foods, they were invented only in 1810 and the first cannery opened in London soon after. The early cans were entirely hand-made. Can-making machines were developed only at the end of the 19th century. Unlike iron, which has been cast for thousands of years, steel is a relatively new material. It was first made from small quantities of iron in 1740.

Manufacturing: Steel sheets suitable for manufacturing cans are produced in a complex steel making process. Electric arc furnaces are first used for metal melting, which is followed by casting to produce steel slabs. These are hot strip rolled into coils and then cut into smaller pieces ready for manufacturing cans.

To make steel suitable for use as a container it is necessary to add a thin layer of tin, which is intended to prevent corrosion of the steel surface. Tin is applied to steel in a process of electrolysis. Cans are used for packaging food, aerosols, paints, juice and many other products.

Recycling: Steel cans from segregated collections are taken to recycling sorting centres where they are separated either by hand or with magnets to remove impurities and contaminants. The cans are then baled and sent for recycling for the purpose of manufacturing new steel items.

Did you know that: Recycling one ton of steel saves 1.5 tons of iron ore and leads to 85% less harmful carbon emissions into the air. The steel recycling process uses some 75% less power and 40% less water than the process of steel production from primary raw materials.


Non-ferous metals: aluminium

Introduction: Today aluminum is a well-known and commonly used metal, but unlike other metals such as iron, bronze and copper, making aluminum became possible only in the beginning of the 1850s.

Manufacturing: Bauxite is extracted from mines and then transported to refineries where it is converted into alumina - a fine grained white powder. The alumina is transported to plants to be smelted for the purpose of obtaining pure aluminium. Pure aluminium is poured to make ingots, which are rolled to produce long thin aluminium sheets. The sheets are turned into aluminium cans.

Recycling: Aluminum cans collected for recycling are first sorted and then baled. The bales are transported to processing plants. There in rotary kilns aluminum is heated to about 700 ºC. Molten aluminum is cast and the slabs are sent to be rolled into sheets for making new cans. In some cases, recycled aluminum cans are processed into other products.

The energy required to make one new aluminum can is equal to that required for the recycling of twenty aluminum cans.

Did you know that: Recycling one kilogram of aluminum saves the use of six kilograms of bauxite, four kilograms of chemical products and 14 kWh electricity. The process of recycling aluminum cans uses some 5% of the electricity needed to produce aluminum from primary products.