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  • Writer's pictureKalabati Majumdar

How does plastic waste recycling in India work? A step-by-step guide to understand the process


The huge problem of plastic waste has compelled our country to launch a nationwide campaign on single-use plastics on World Environment Day in June 2021. According to the environment minister of India, the plastic itself is not a problem, but uncollected plastic waste is. India recycles 60% of the total plastic waste generated annually. Despite the clarion call to eradicate single-use plastic by 2022, it is obvious that plastic has become an inevitable part of our society. Hence, recycling plastic waste is the only solution to cope with this problem. Plastic waste recycling in India consists of several processes, and a brief step-by-step guide is provided below to provide an in-depth understanding of the same.

The Recycling Process of Plastic Waste

The recycling of plastic waste is a process of collecting the waste or scrap plastic and reprocessing it to transform this material into other types of functional and practical products. As the major types of plastic are non-biodegradable, therefore plastic waste recycling process goes through different types of phases. Starting with the collection of plastic waste, the cycle is completed with sorting and reprocessing. Mainly using chemical and mechanical recycling processes, a new type of material is formed to manufacture practical and usable products. Below, step-by-step procedures are defined in both cases to understand the entire cycle of material recovery.

Mechanical Recycling

In this case, the process starts with the collection of plastic debris, washing, melting, and then transforming the waste into secondary raw material or products without significantly changing the chemical structure of the material. Plastic pellets emerge as the by-product of the recycling process and can be used for manufacturing products like garbage bags, floors, non-food packaging, and others. Fundamentally, it can be stated that all types of thermoplastics are mechanically recycled with little or no impairment in quality.

Before recycling, the entire process goes through different phases. They are as follows-

• Collection

• Sorting

• Shredding and grinding

• Washing and drying

• Re-processing

In order to ensure appropriate processing, they may follow a different order or occur multiple times. However, primarily rag-pickers, municipalities, and voluntary organisations collect plastic waste in India. Plastics are sorted according to their categories during the collection process. Although initial sorting is manual, next-level sorting uses technology to achieve precision. Some of these sorting techniques are-

• Float-Sink Sorting (density-based)

• Froth-Flotation Sorting

• Near-Infrared Sorting

• X-Ray Fluorescence

• Laser-Aided Identification

• Marker Systems

The above techniques can be used either in series or individually to complete the desired separation and purity. But at the same time, it must be kept in mind that the implementation simply depends on the waste stream and available capital investment. During the entire cycle, shredding, grinding, sieving, and other more complicated processes are followed to transform the PW into secondary raw materials.

The re-processing procedure includes heat treatment with reforming, re-compounding with additives, and extruding operations. Ultimately, recycled material in the form of pellets is used to manufacture other products. This recycled material can be used as a substitute for virgin polymer. Traditionally known for handling single-polymer plastics, like PVC, PET, PP, and PS, this technique remains dominant in recycling post-consumer plastic packaging waste.

Chemical Recycling

Although mechanical recycling is used traditionally, in recent times non-mechanical recycling technologies, also known as chemical recycling, have been used to process plastic waste streams. In this case, the erstwhile hard-to-recycle plastic products go through a chemical recycling process as they cannot be recycled mechanically due to technological, economic, or ecological reasons. In this process, plastic waste can be transformed into base chemicals and chemical feedstocks. Also, chemical recycling is known for its potential to improve recycling rates dramatically and divert PW from landfill or incineration to virgin-quality materials.

In India, 0.93% of PW is processed through chemical or feedstock recycling. In feedstock recycling, the collected plastics are dismantled into monomers and other basic chemical elements (depolymerisation). It remains an attractive option for hard-to-recycle plastic products, as these are difficult to recycle through mechanical recycling due to their low quality, composite nature, or low economic value. These monomers can be used as an alternative to virgin material for manufacturing new polymers.

The feedstock recycling includes conversation processes like-

• Pyrolysis – By conducting chemical and thermal decomposition of a material and in the absence of oxygen, syngas and liquid fuels are created.

• Gasification – By using extremely high temperatures and minimal oxygen, syngas is created from the leftover char from pyrolysis.

• Hydrogeneration – By applying hydrogen at a high temperature and pressure environment, Syncrude (liquid and gaseous) is created.

Plastic Waste Recycling Market Trends in India

In India, consumers are becoming increasingly aware of the detrimental effects of plastic waste on human health and the environment. With the elevating levels of urbanisation and industrialisation, plastic-based product usage across diverse end-use industries like automotive, construction, food- and non-food packaging leads to a significant amount of plastic waste. Hence, the Indian government has adopted a stringent plan regarding the plastic recycling programme to limit plastic wastage.

As a part of the Swachh Bharat campaign, the plastic recycling market in India is growing tremendously to make the country free from single-use plastics. At present, the plastic recycling market in India is stood at USD 520.68 million and is expected to grow at a CAGR of 7.58% during the forecast period. With increasing environmental awareness, India has made plastic recycling a topmost priority to reduce waste and promote eco-friendly plastic disposables. Due to the objectives of reducing plastic pollution and minimising landfill dependence, the growing demand for plastic recycling results in conserving resources and preventing greenhouse gas emissions. As an alternative to virgin material, recycled plastic can be used again for packaging consumer goods.

Wrapping Up

Plastic waste has been emerging as a global problem, and India cannot be far behind to become a part of the plastic recycling programmes for making the environment clean and green. Both mechanical and chemical recycling processes are undertaken by the government to recycle plastic waste according to their categories. The output can be used as an alternative to virgin material which can be again used to manufacture practical and usable products. As a private organisation, Dalmia Polypro is driven by the motto of maximising the value of recycled plastic waste. Hence, it not only produces high-quality recyclates, but also undertakes conscious efforts to solve the country’s plastic waste problem and advance the circular economy.

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