The international highlight for plastic waste has resulted in new and stricter controls in relation to its export from the European Union and the United Kingdom.

The plastic reprocessing infrastructure in the UK has been growing a lot, and many companies have been specializing in recycling to meet the demand for waste generated in the European Union.

This follows the EU's decision to prevent member countries from exporting hazardous and difficult-to-recycle plastic waste (known as Y48) to nations that are not part of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). This includes all mixed polymers, except PP, PE and PET. As a result, EU exports to some of the largest plastic scrap importing countries in South and Southeast Asia are officially banned. This is a considerably tougher position than the one currently adopted by the UK government, which as of January 1, 2021, required operators to request prior consent to send certain plastics to non-OECD countries.

According to the new rules, only recyclable and “clean” plastic waste can be exported from European Union countries to non-OECD countries. There are also new and more stringent measures to be applied to exports of plastic waste from the EU to OECD countries and to movements within the EU itself.

Basically, based on these changes, the fate of recycled plastics in the countries of the European Union will be monitored to prevent waste accumulated in nature.

Only some types of plastic that do not enter into this agreement and that can be easily recycled at local plants.

Bureaucracy

Even with these measures, the increase in bureaucracy between the countries that receive the plastic, can already be noticed. On certain occasions, it takes up to three months to update notifications, delaying the process of recycling this material. This method is also undermining confidence and stability with the fear that new shipments may be reversed in transit or rejected by the authorities in the country of destination, with the cost of sharing the waste falling on the exporter.

Low-cost exports to Asia and Southeast Asia have historically meant that much of this material that could be recycled at UK facilities ended up being shipped worldwide.

Closing access to these markets and increasing regulation could, however, make the UK more attractive to EU recycling and waste management companies looking for sustainable markets for plastics from waste streams, including small appliances.

There are also fears that stocks of plastic waste are starting to build up. The surplus of this material can be harmful to the economy and the environment.

As an island nation, the United Kingdom has developed the most respected export and logistics capacity in the world. Companies like Enva can now take advantage of this experience to reduce the risk of material moving from the EU to the UK.

This fully managed service can include the production of all necessary notifications and export paperwork. In fact, Enva had already used its experience to establish a series of pre-notified export routes before the changes.

This has enabled customers to benefit from a stable and consistent material removal solution that realizes the commercial and environmental value of the waste they produce.

The new method is much simpler and cheaper than the previous technique, which used to extract lignin from wood

Researchers at the University of Maryland have developed a transparent wood that is a promising material for applications in buildings with high energy efficiency. The creation was disclosed in an article in Science Advances entitled “Solar-assisted manufacturing of standardized transparent wood on a large scale”.

Transparent wood is not new, but the technique used by these researchers is much simpler and still has energy efficiency.

The method

Wood is made of cellulose, which are tiny fibres, and lignin, which joins these fibres together. Lignin also contains molecules called chromophores, which make wood brown. Instead of trying to remove lignin – using dangerous chemicals – scientists at the University of Maryland found a much simpler and cheaper way, done as follows: scientists took wooden boards one meter long and one millimetre long thick and applied a hydrogen peroxide solution with a regular brush.

When left in the sun or under an ultraviolet lamp for about an hour, the peroxide bleached the brown chromophores, leaving the lignin intact, so that the wood turned white.

Then, they fused the wood with a transparent and resistant epoxy (designed for marine use), which filled the porous spaces of the wood, making it white and transparent. The wood epoxy allows 90% of the visible light to pass through. The result is a piece similar to glass, but with the strength and flexibility of wood.

As a result, this material can replace window glass, as it provides much better thermal insulation – bearing in mind that glass windows are the main source of heat loss or cooling. In addition, transparent wood is much more durable than glass.

In addition to being lighter, the team found that this wood is 50 times more resistant than old-fashioned transparent wood. Therefore, it could be used to cover large buildings. And the researchers say it can also be used for roofs, generating even more energy savings.