Co-Processing: What More Do We Need to Know About It?

Co-processing

The truth is that sustainable waste management can be a bit complicated. In order to effectively eliminate waste in a way that won’t harm the environment, we have to ensure that our processes reduce greenhouse gas emissions, effectively eliminate toxic waste, and that the waste is fully destroyed. Achieving all of these goals is difficult.

This is why co-processing offers an effective solution when it comes to addressing non-recyclable waste. This zero-waste process uses every aspect of the non-recyclable waste that it can while monitoring emissions and chemical output so that waste is eliminated without negatively impacting the environment.

The co-processing system can be a difficult one to grasp, especially since it at first sounds similar to incineration. However, there are many key differences. Here’s a deep dive into what co-processing is, how safe it is, and why TONTOTON chooses this method to eliminate orphan plastic waste.

Co-processing

Co-processing is a waste management system in which waste materials are converted into alternative fuels and/or raw materials.

In TONTOTON’s case, co-processing refers to the use of a cement kiln to cleanly burn plastic waste as an alternative energy source while utilizing the ash leftovers in the cement itself. This creates a zero-waste management system that allows us to eliminate non-recyclable plastics.

Through co-processing, we’re able to take low-quality plastics that cannot easily be recycled or reused—those often bound for our rivers and oceans—and eliminate them in a way that’s more environmentally friendly than typical management methods, like landfills or incineration.

What is the difference between co-processing and incineration?

waste incineration

It’s easy to get co-processing confused with incineration. After all, both methods use high heat in order to burn waste. How is co-processing better?

While they do have some similarities, their management goals differ. Through co-processing, waste is converted into energy and usable raw materials. Through incineration, waste is merely reduced to ash, minimizing its volume to a point where it’s easier to manage. Co-processing takes advantage of the incineration process by capturing the energy used during incineration and utilizing the leftover ash.

co-processing vs incineration

Additionally, co-processing is cleaner than incineration. Studies show that co-processing is more environmentally beneficial than incineration when it comes to global warming potential, ecological footprint, human toxicity potential, and acidification potential.

How environmentally friendly is co-processing?

co processing

When it comes to waste management, there is a waste hierarchy, developed by the European Union’s Waste Framework Directive. It organizes waste management systems from most favorable to least favorable. Co-processing falls directly in the middle, below reusing and recycling but above incineration and disposal.

This makes it an ideal choice for non-recyclable waste, like orphan plastic, which would typically either end up in a landfill or as ocean-bound plastic. 

The co-processing method itself reduces greenhouse gas emissions through the use of alternative energy sources, and it truly eliminates waste rather than simply reducing it, keeping our planet safe from plastic pollution. Additionally, a steady flow of alkaline materials neutralizes potential acidic gasses, ensuring that there is no chemical pollution. 

Although co-processing is currently the best, most environmentally friendly way to eliminate orphan plastic waste, it is not a long term solution; we must work to reduce the production and use of these plastics altogether. The key to effective, sustainable waste management is in preventing this waste in the first place. Individuals must do their part by staying away from unnecessary packaging and using reusable bags, and businesses must limit their single-use plastics in favor of sustainable options. This is the only way to truly address the plastic pollution problem.

That being said, co-processing gives us a way to cleanly eliminate the orphan plastic that we currently have while also converting that plastic into an alternative fuel source, simultaneously eliminating non-recyclable waste and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Why use a cement kiln for co-processing?

Here at TONTOTON, we send collected plastic waste to cement kilns for co-processing, but we’re not the only ones who use this method. In fact, countries across the EU have been using co-processing in cement factories for years—40% of the thermal energy used in the clinker-making process at EU-based cement factories comes from waste. 

But, what makes cement kilns the ideal choice for co-processing orphan plastic waste?

To ensure that co-processing in a cement kiln is controlled and safe, co-processing companies must use proper technology, systems, and processes. This includes using emission-monitoring equipment to ensure that they aren’t pumping harmful chemicals into the atmosphere, updated testing labs, and proper alternative fuel and raw material storage methods.

Any co-processing cement factory and system needs to be certified by a third party in order to regulate their practices and guarantee that the co-processing system used is both safe and environmentally friendly.

Co-processing with TONTOTON

INSEE Ecocycle - TONTOTON

We’ve chosen co-processing as our waste management method because it allows us to address a growing problem: orphan plastic. Through co-processing, we have eliminated 75 tons of orphan plastic waste in Vietnam so far and are quickly moving towards our 100th. 

We see co-processing orphan plastic waste as a win for everyone. The environment wins because we are collecting and eliminating non-recyclable plastic waste while reducing the use of conventional fuels. The cement factory wins because burning plastic waste is a cheaper option than burning coal or another conventional energy source. Your company wins because you’re offsetting your plastic footprint and adopting sustainable business practices that your customers will love.

We ensure that our co-processing partners commit to the highest operating standards. All of our activities are audited by a third party, verifying everything from the skills of the collectors to the co-processing system. The third party provides a certificate so that you can be sure of our process as well.

Vietnam is the third highest exporter of cement globally, which means that there are a plethora of cement factories. Some already make use of co-processing technology so TONTOTON doesn’t need to build a new facility that would be costly to both the environment and our budget. All we have to do is make use of existing facilities. Another win.

Beyond co-processing plastic waste, we also encourage our corporate partners to make additional sustainable business choices in order to further reduce orphan plastic waste. Per the waste management hierarchy, the most favorable waste management methods are prevention and minimization. By reducing your use of orphan plastic (through reducing plastic packaging, switching to reusable bags over single-use plastic ones, reducing plastic use in your production practices), you can help to further reduce plastic waste, and especially ocean-bound plastics, helping us inch closer to eliminating orphan plastic waste altogether.

Co-processing is the best waste management choice when it comes to non-recyclable waste, like orphan plastic. You can help join our movement to eliminate orphan plastic waste. Join TONTOTON and help create a cleaner world for all.