More and more plastic is being produced around the world – and only a small part of it is recycled. In Europe, for example, around a third of the plastic waste is processed in one form or another, says the materials scientist Johannes Steinhaus from the Bonn-Rhein-Sieg University of Applied Sciences.

Globally, according to the UN, the recycling rate is significantly worse at nine percent. Large amounts of plastic end up in nature. There are creative ideas around the world to at least curb the flood of plastic to some extent.

drinking bottle filling

In France, a number of cities have started offering free refilling of drinking bottles with tap water. This should prevent you from having to keep buying new plastic bottles. Since last year, shops in Paris have been using a sticker to draw attention to the service, which does not oblige you to make any purchase. The 825 participating shops can now be located on an online map, as can around 1,200 fountains and public water taps in the streets and parks of the capital.

garbage apps

In Africa, for example, there is often a lack of functioning waste management. This is being replaced by informal garbage collectors who make a living from recyclable garbage. Still, a lot of material ends up in illegal landfills. However, there are digital solutions in several countries. App users, garbage collectors and recycling companies are networked: Users can have their recycling garbage picked up at the push of a button and the garbage collectors earn money with every kilogram of plastic garbage that ends up at the recycling companies. Materials scientist Steinhaus thinks that’s a good idea. It also makes sense in poor countries to give plastic waste a value so that it can be recycled.

Fences made from old plastic

Countless start-ups show a variety of recycling options. In Kenya, a company makes fences from old plastic. It is said that this saves timber and protects the stocks of the Kenyan forests, which have been shrinking for years. In Rwanda and the Philippines, companies produce tables and chairs for schools. The company Envirotech from the Philippines, for example, says that bags, cups and candy wrappers are shredded, melted, formed and then reassembled. According to company boss Winchester Lemen, 20 to 30 kilos of plastic flow into a chair. Other products such as plant pots, lamps, picnic tables and recently a 28 square meter house made of 95 percent plastic waste are also produced.

Plastic paving stones

Rebricks from Indonesia turns plastic waste such as bags and food packaging into paving stones, tiles and bricks. Rebricks works with waste banks, refuse collectors and households. The waste is shredded, mixed with cement and sand and poured into various shapes. Since its founding in 2018, the startup has recycled over 17,500 kilos of plastic waste and manufactured over 100,000 bricks.

Similarly, the Indian company KK Plastic Waste Management LTD not only produces building materials, but also entire roads made of plastic, among other things. Plastic waste would be sorted, cleaned and mixed with asphalt and gravel at 160 degrees. The plastic serves as a binding agent, says company boss Rasool Khan. In the past quarter century, his company has built more than 2,000 kilometers of roads, including motorways. However, Steinhaus experts see the risk of microplastics getting into the environment with such solutions.

Plastic Art

Indonesian artist Ari Bayuaji makes art from old boat ropes he collects in mangrove forests and on beaches. He is now so well known that fishermen bring him their discarded ropes themselves. In his studio in the holiday resort of Sanur, the 48-year-old untangles the synthetic fibers until they are as thin as sewing thread. Wall hangings are then created on a traditional loom. Bayuaji also works with craftsmen – this is how traditional sculptures from Balinese mythology are created with hair from untangled boat ropes. He calls the project “Weaving the Ocean”. The works have already been shown in Singapore, Rotterdam and Mönchengladbach.

Seaweed packaging

Last year, one of the “Earthshot” awards presented by the British heir to the throne, Prince William, went to the London start-up company Notpla, which produces packaging from seaweed. This is to avoid waste. Compostable products include boxes for take-away meals, a consumable membrane that can carry water and other liquids, and foil. In 2022 alone, for example, one million seaweed boxes were produced for the delivery company Just Eat, according to the company website.

plastic deal

The UN is negotiating an international plastic agreement. By 2024, a convention is to be drawn up that will set out binding rules and measures that affect the entire life cycle of plastic. The UN wants to massively curb environmental pollution from plastic waste by 2040.