Why Co-processing in Cement Factories is the Key to Plastic Pollution

Plastic waste. It’s a worldwide problem without a clear solution. Not only are there tons of non-recyclable plastics sitting in landfills, floating down rivers as ocean-bound plastic, and worst of all, littering our oceans, but even recyclable plastics can only be recycled a limited number of times; eventually, they, too, will end up as non-recyclable waste. Since plastic is cheap to produce and incredibly useful, it’s clear that plastic production is here to stay until we come up with a viable plastic substitute. To eliminate plastic waste, we need to focus on its management. Enter: co-processing. Co-processing is when waste material (like plastic and other garbage) is used as a fuel source rather than raw materials (like coal and petroleum). Not only does co-processing eliminate waste, but it also minimizes the use of non-renewable resources—a win-win situation. But, does co-processing truly deliver the environmental solutions that it promises? Here is a quick guide to co-processing plastics, how it’s monitored, and how TONTOTON uses funding from plastic credits to support co-processing practices.

What is co-processing?

Co-processing is a technology that converts manufacturing waste (like orphan plastic) into alternative fuels and raw materials (AFRM). Simply put, it’s when the trash is burned for its energy fuel rather than sources like petroleum and coal.

Why is co-processing plastic a good solution?

The benefits of co-processing plastic are multiple: it reduces CO2 emissions by burning plastic rather than coal, it minimizes the use of non-renewable resources, it reduces plastic waste, and it’s a zero-waste practice since even the ashes are used in cement manufacturing.

Why use cement factories for co-processing plastic?

Cement factories offer the perfect solution to plastic management through co-processing for several reasons. The cement industry is currently undergoing a transition. In the past, cement factories have been known for their massive CO2 emissions. To produce concrete, intense heat (around 1,450 degrees Celsius) is required to turn limestone into liquid. This necessitates massive amounts of fuel, which in the past came from coal. (Cement factories burn about 500 million tonnes of coal per year.) Co-processing plastic provides a solution to minimize CO2 emissions from cement factories. Burning plastic for fuel rather than coal is a cleaner option, and it properly eliminates plastic that otherwise would have ended up in landfills, as ocean-bound plastic, or floating in the ocean. Additionally, the leftover ashes are mixed into the cement, ensuring that the entire process is zero-waste. The cement factories benefit because co-processing plastic burns more cleanly and contains more energy than coal, thereby reducing their CO2 emissions through a higher energy-producing method. The world benefits because plastic waste is being eliminated fewer non-renewable resources are being used. This is not a new practice. Some cement factories have been co-processing plastic for fuel since the ‘80s, and it’s now standard practice across Europe. Therefore, it’s a proven method that has great potential when it comes to sustainability and plastic management.

How is the co-processing being monitored?

When it comes to environmental issues, like plastic management, multiple parties must be involved to monitor practices and ensure that waste is being managed sustainably. Here at TONTOTON, we verify that the plastic waste that we collect is properly managed through our certified partner INSEE Ecocycle. INSEE Ecocycle operates in full compliance with the United Nations Environmental Protection policies and the Basel Convention guidelines for co-processing, which is the international environmental agreement for waste. They analyze the entire process, including waste analysis, storage, and pre-treatment. This ensures that all plastic provided by TONTOTON is properly collected, treated, and burned cleanly to achieve all of the goals set out by co-processing plastics. To partner with INSEE, TONTOTON must provide all of the proper documentation related to waste treatment to our third-party control body, Control Union, as part of the Ocean-Bound Plastic Certification audit. What this means is that you can be sure that the plastic collected by TONTOTON will be properly managed since it requires multiple parties to monitor the process. Co-processing plastic and other waste is the best solution to the plastic waste that we have currently. It provides a sustainable alternative fuel source, minimizing our use of non-renewable resources, it cleanly eliminates plastic waste, and it’s a zero-waste solution for cement factories.