Plastics are, perhaps more than anything else, the definitive mark of mankind of the planet. Since most plastics are not biodegradable, this may well be literally true, but not in a good sense. The nonbiodegrability of plastics has become a major concern of our times, with plastic waste becoming a threat for several marine and terrestrial species. Plastic waste not only pollutes the land when buried, but it also affects the global food web. This has led to the plastic to oil process becoming increasingly popular.
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Plastics are made from petroleum derivatives, which means they can be reconstituted into synthetic oil. The oil derived from plastic waste can be used in applications in which conventional petroleum oils are conventionally used, which also eases the load on the oil and gas industry, already reeling under the pressure of the falling levels of petroleum reservoirs. Plastic waste to oil also constitutes a better alternative to recycling, since not all plastic can be recycled and recyclability depends entirely upon the application. The overridingly beneficial nature of plastic waste to oil has led to the process gaining increasing demand in the last decade.
According to a Transparency Market Research report recently added to the online database of Market Research Reports Search Engine (MRRSE), the global recycled plastics and plastic waste to oil market was valued at US$542.8 mn in 2014. Exhibiting a robust CAGR of 12.6% from 2016 to 2024, the global market is expected to rise to a valuation of close to US$2 bn.
Polyethylene the Most Popular Type of Plastic Converted; Diesel the Most Popular Type of Fuel Obtained
Of the various plastics used in the recycled plastic and plastic waste to oil process, polyethylene is the dominant product segment of the market. The high energy ratio of polyethylene is responsible for the dominant share of the segment. Accordingly, high-density polyethylene is more popular than the low-density variant. Other major types of plastic used for generating oil are polyethylene terephthalate, polyvinyl chloride, polystyrene, and polypropylene.
Of the various types of petroleum fuels that can be obtained from recycled plastic and plastic waste, diesel took up the largest share in the global plastic waste to oil market in 2014. Kerosene and gasoline are other major types of fuel generated in large volume through the plastic waste to oil process. The steady demand for diesel from the global transportation sector, boosted by the rampant urbanization and industrialization in dynamic countries such as China, India, South Africa, Egypt, the UAE, Brazil, Russia, Argentina, Thailand, and Mexico, has driven the production of diesel from recycled plastic and plastic waste.
Falling Crude Oil Prices Hinder Plastic Waste to Oil Market
Among the several industries indirectly affected by the drastic drop in crude oil prices in 2014-2015, the plastic waste to oil industry was a prime one. One of the benefits of the plastic waste to oil process is that it is more cost-effective than crude oil exploration and production from natural reservoirs. However, the drop in the prices of crude oil, which have fallen by more than 50% over a relatively short period, has made the conversion of plastic waste to oil economically redundant.
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On the other hand, the rising acknowledgment of the ecological impact of plastic waste could force governments to prioritize conversion of plastic waste to oil over petroleum production. This is a promising opportunity for the global recycled plastic and plastic waste to oil market, as the global production of plastics is showing no signs of slowing down.
Depending on how the problem of plastic waste escalates in the coming years and how governments around the world react to it, the plastic waste to oil conversion process could yet turn out to be the ecological savior man has been crying out for.