It will likely take until 2024 for the treaty to be finalized and we don’t know all the details yet, although there is talk of production limits as well as additional restrictions on what can go into the plastic. But limits on how many countries produce plastic probably won’t be enough to solve the problem.

Finding ways to open up plastic recycling can also play a big role in reducing the negative impact of plastic.

Much of plastic recycling today relies on thermal and mechanical methods – basically melting plastics and recycling them. In some cases this works well, but can result in a lower quality product than what you started with.

This is why plastic water bottles that are collected for recycling hardly ever get turned into new water bottles. Instead, the small fraction that ends up being recycled is usually used to make other products, such as carpets.

New approaches such as chemical and biological processing can solve some of these problems. For example, last year I wrote about a French company called Carbios that is working on using microbes to recycle the plastic in water bottles, PET. If the method proves economical, it could help recycle more bottles back into bottles.

But this process will not work for all plastics. This brings us to chemical recycling, a huge umbrella term for many different approaches to recycling.

One of the most interesting areas of chemical processing for me is compound feed processing: different plastics can be processed in one process. Plastics that go into recycling today are separated before being recycled because your water bottle requires different treatment than your milk jug.

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