M.S. Thesis: Current State and Potential for Increasing Plastics Recycling in the U.S.

By Jawad A. Bhatti

Advisor:  Professor Nickolas J. Themelis, Columbia University

Department of Earth and Environmental Engineering
Fu Foundation School of Engineering & Applied Science
Columbia University

October 2010

The objectives of this thesis were to determine how plastics are currently recycled and identify means for increasing plastics recycling and/or energy recovery from plastics, substantially. The study examined six major thermoplastic resins: Polyethylene terephthalate (PET), high density polyethylene (HDPE), polyvinyl chloride (PVC), low density polyethylene (LDPE), polypropylene (PP), and polystyrene (PS), which comprise the vast majority (80%) of plastics. The study showed the respective volumes of these materials that are recycled or landfilled. The source-separated plastics, by some U.S. communities were followed by the author, first at the materials recovery facility (MRF), where plastic are separated from other materials, and then at a regional plastics recovery facility (PRF) that receives plastic wastes from many local MRF and produces various types of marketable plastics and a residue amounting to about 30% of the feedstock to the PRF. A waste characterization test performed by the author on this residue showed that it consisted mostly of paper fiber.

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