Plastic growing demand and the increment in global plastics production have raised the number of spent plastics, out of which over 90% are either landfilled or incinerated. Both methods for handling spent plastics are susceptible to releasing toxic substances, damaging air, water, soil, organisms, and public health. Improvements to the existing infrastructure for plastics management are needed to limit chemical additive release and exposure resulting from the end-of-life (EoL) stage. This article analyzes the current plastic waste management infrastructure and identifies chemical additive releases through a material flow analysis. Additionally, we performed a facility-level generic scenario analysis of the current U.S. EoL stage of plastic additives to track and estimate their potential migration, releases, and occupational exposure. Potential scenarios were analyzed through sensitivity analysis to examine the merit of increasing recycling rates, using chemical recycling, and implementing additive extraction post-recycling. Our analyses identified that the current state of plastic EoL management possesses high mass flow intensity toward incineration and landfilling. Although maximizing the plastic recycling rate is a reasonably straightforward goal for enhancing material circularity, the conventional mechanical recycling method requires improvement because major chemical additive release and contamination routes act as obstacles to achieving high-quality plastics for future reuse and should be mitigated through chemical recycling and additive extraction. The potential hazards and risks identified in this research create an opportunity to design a safer closed-loop plastic recycling infrastructure to handle additives strategically and support sustainable materials management efforts to transform the US plastic economy from linear to circular.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Environmental Engineering
- Environmental Chemistry
- Waste Management and Disposal
- Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis