Everything You Need To Know About Recycled Plastics
Plastic recycling is the process of recovering scrap disposed of plastic then reprocessing it into useful products and items. Plastic recycling is great for the environment because the goal is to reduce the amount of plastic that ends up in landfills. This, in turn, reduces dependence on landfills.
Plastic recycling is also necessary for protecting the environment from pollution and greenhouse emissions. Even with more people taking a liking to recycle plastics, there are still many people who do not know enough about recycling.
Additionally, have you ever wondered what happens to recycled plastic? The information below sets out to answer this question. It will also cover some of the general and environmental benefits of recycling.
Expect also to learn about some of the problems with recycled plastic and how you can prepare your plastics for recycling. This information will cover everything you need to know about recycled plastics starting with the plastic recycling process.
How Is Plastic Recycled?
There are two main methods of recycling plastic. The variations exist because there are different types of plastics, and they cannot be recycled the same way. Whichever method a producer chooses depends on the available resources. Additionally, the desired end product can influence the method one chooses.
Traditional or mechanical recycling is the most popular method of plastic recycling. It involves melting plastic then manufacturing it into helpful plastic products through a process called injection molding.
This is a process that breaks down plastic using chemicals. It consists of three techniques. The plastic can undergo Pyrolysis, which involves turning plastic into crude oil. Plastic can also undergo Gasification, which converts plastic into gas that producers can use to create energy.
And finally, the plastic can also undergo Chemical Recycling, which reduces a polymer into a monomer that can create valuable products such as nylon.
Both recycling methods use similar stages to create the end product. It is a process that requires attention to detail. Additionally, the process could take months to finish. The step-by-step process of making recycled plastic is as follows:
Collecting Waste Plastic
The first step is gathering the waste plastic products. While it sounds easy, it is a tedious and meticulous task. Collecting plastic waste often depends on how well businesses and people dispose of their recyclable plastic.
For example, if the plastic is not separated into the designated recycling bin, it will not undergo recycling. Employees from local government or private companies and volunteers go to homes, businesses, and public spaces to collect the scrap plastic from trash bins and other dumping sites.
Once the collectors have enough, they take the plastic to a designated recycling facility. It could be a bottle bank or a large local waste site.
When the plastic reaches the facility, the machines have to separate the plastic according to type. Plastics differ in color, thickness, and type. The machines use these characteristics to sort the plastics into categories.
The sorting is necessary because it determines how the plastics are processed. If the type of plastic is processed wrongly, it will reduce the efficiency of the entire process.
And since some facilities only recycle one type of plastic, sorting ensures the rest goes to the appropriate recycling facility. Finally, sorting reduces contamination of the end products. If the plastic gets contaminated, the end products will not be as durable or visually appealing.
Washing or cleaning the plastic is an important step in the recycling process. Washing removes the impurities from the plastic, such as labels, dirt, mud, food, adhesive, and other particles. Washing also removes any chemicals in the plastic materials.
Recycling plastic with impurities creates end products with bad structural integrity and unappealing visuals. These impurities are not recyclable, so the end product won’t look or hold as well.
Even though plastic undergoes washing, you should always remove impurities as best as possible before tossing it out for recycling. It makes the process easier.
After sorting, the employees feed the plastic to shredders. The shredders break the plastic into smaller pieces or shaped particles. Shredding the plastic makes it easier to mold it onto various forms for the end product. Additionally, it makes it easier to process the plastic.
Moreover, shredding makes it easy to identify any impurities that passed the washing stage. Impurities at this stage are often metal, so facilities use metal detectors and magnets to identify and separate the impurities.
Shredded plastic is also easier to use for other applications without further processing. It is also easier to reprocess shredded plastic into other items besides plastic products.
The identification and separations tag tests the plastic for quality and class. The separation is necessary for further processing. It ensures that the end products retain excellent quality and visuals.
The shredded plastic undergoes multiple testing procedures starting with density. The facility puts the shredded plastic in a large water tank then separates them according to floaters and sinkers.
Next, the plastics undergo air classification that determines how thick or thin the plastic is. The plastics go into a small wind tunnel, and the thinner pieces will fly higher up while the thick ones remain lower.
The recyclers will also test the shredded plastic to determine the melting point and color. Employees of the facilities collect, analyze, and separate the samples from each batch.
This is the final step in recycling. The recyclers transform the plastic particles into useful products for manufacturers. The compounding process involves melting the plastic into pellets. This process is also known as extrusion.
Compounding consumes a lot of time and energy. Therefore, recyclers may not always have the resources to compound all types of plastic. Therefore, some of the plastic may be sent to other facilities for compounding.
Are All Plastics Recyclable?
There are different types of plastic in use globally. Therefore, you might wonder if all types of plastics are recyclable. In theory, almost all plastic is recyclable. However, the recycling process does not make it economically or environmentally practical to recycle all types of plastic.
For example, recycling costs a lot of money, so recycling everything would be an economic setback. Additionally, items with different layers of plastic make it difficult and costly to recycle. Therefore, all plastics are not recyclable. So which plastics are eligible for recycling?
PET or PETE (Polyethylene Terephthalate)
PET is the most widely used plastic globally. PET items such as soft drink bottles, food containers, egg cartons, vegetable oil containers, and other types of jars have the number 1 symbol on them.
HDPE (High-Density Polyethylene)
This is one of the easiest plastic polymers to recycle. They go to large recycling facilities for processing. They have a number 2 symbol on them, and popular ones include detergent bottles, buckets, storage bins, garbage bags, and milk jugs.
This plastic is also a popular packaging material. Ice Cream tubs, prescription bottles, and dishware are all PP plastic. They have a number 5 symbol on them. Unfortunately, recycling PP is difficult and expensive because the smell and color are both hard to change.
PVC (number 3 Polyvinyl Chloride) such as piping, siding, and chemical bottles does not undergo recycling. Similarly, LDPE (number 4 Low-Density Polyethylene) such as dry cleaning bags, bubble wrap, plastic bags, and snack bags do not undergo recycling because they tend to tangle in machinery, affecting the process.
And finally, Recyclers cannot recycle PS (number 6 Polystyrene ) such as packing peanuts, red solo cups, and CD cases and O (number 7 Other) such as multi-gallon water containers.
Benefits Of Plastic Recycling
Some of the benefits of recycling include:
It reduces pollution.
Pollution is a looming problem, and greenhouse gasses are the primary cause of increasing levels in an ecosystem. Greenhouse gases cause climate change, and they are an unfortunate result of making new plastic.
By recycling plastic instead of producing it, manufacturers reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Additionally, recycling prevents plastic contamination in water and soil. This is because plastic leaches harmful chemicals over time.
With fewer chemicals leaching into the soil and water, animals and plant species can thrive, improving the ecosystems and the food chain.
It reduces dependency on landfills.
The ever-growing human population demands more habitable land. But plastic production also means demand for more landfills. Many plastic containers and products end up in landfills. However, with more people recycling, the dependency on landfills should diminish since there is less waste. This will leave more land for human settlements.
It promotes sustainability.
Businesses and large corporations affect the lifestyle of their community members because they have a lot of influence. Therefore, if more large corporations take up recycling, it will encourage communities to do the same.
Corporations can encourage recycling by leading by example and educating community members. Mass recycling efforts will promote sustainability by positively changing environmental conservation.
It protects natural resources.
Manufacturing plastic demands coal, gas, and water, which strains natural resources. Recycling demands way less, so it is less of a strain on natural resources. Additionally, recycling uses less energy than making plastic from scratch. Manufacturers can use the saved energy for other processes.
It reduces the demand for fossil fuels.
Plastic manufacturing demands the use of crude oil. Millions of barrels undergo use every year to manufacture plastic. Petroleum is a finite all-natural resource that will deplete with increased use. Recycling plastic reduces the demand for crude oil to manufacture plastic. And recycling uses fewer fossil fuels.
What Is Recycled Plastic Used For?
Technological innovations see that recycled plastic receives new life. The use of recycled plastic ranges from practical to impressive and sustainable. Recycled plastic can become many new useful products. However, the most popular products are:
Recycled plastic becomes poly lumber, a durable substitute for wood and sometimes metal. The best thing about poly lumber is that it can mimic the look of wood while performing better under harsh weather and moisture.
Poly lumber creates beautiful poly furniture, primarily for outdoor settings. Therefore you can find poly Adirondack chairs, swings, poly dining sets, poly tables, stools, and footrests. Poly furniture is ideal for outdoor use because it offers excellent resistance to moisture and harsh weather.
Additionally, they do not rust and are easy to customize. They come in multiple colors, making it easy for consumers to retain color schemes and themes.
Clothes and shoes (fashion items)
This is a relatively new and impressive innovation that is slowly taking over. Recycled plastic is spun into a thread that goes to manufacture fashion items such as clothes and shoes. More companies are turning to plastic for sustainable fashion.
You can find activewear, shoes, swimsuits, hats, and even hosiery made from recycled plastic. The endeavor is slowly growing, putting recycled plastic into practical use.
Bottles, packaging, and wraps
Recycled plastics can also become bottles and packaging materials again. In fact, many of the plastic bottles we see today are made from recycled plastic. The best thing about these is that they can be recycled repeatedly, reducing the need for producing new ones.
Foam packing is the padded spongy white stuff that comes with electronics and other fragile items. Foam packing is created from recycled plastic. Plastic foam can also undergo recycling to form plastic insulation and new foam packaging.
Recycled plastic can also become different types of accessories such as mats, blankets, toys, plant holders, backpacks, surfboards, crockery and cutlery, shopping bags, and carpets. Most times, these accessories undergo recycling to re-make more products.
And finally, recycled plastic is gaining momentum as an affordable construction material in third-world countries. Innovators started by filling plastic bottles and containers with sand, stacking them together, and using cement or mud to form a wall. The most recent improvement sees the use of recycled plastic to create firm and affordable building bricks.
Challenges Of Recycling Plastic
Unfortunately, recycled plastic does not come easily. Many challenges affect recycling, but the most prevalent are:
It Is Dependent On Consumer Behavior
Recycling is a promising endeavor for the environment. However, it is highly dependent on consumer behavior, starting with whether they choose to recycle in the first place. Consumers can choose whether to recycle or dump the trash.
And if they choose to recycle, will they sort the items? Most people rarely sort their trash, and unfortunately, this means that a lot of plastic will not see recycled. Unfortunately, this is tied to a general lack of knowledge.
People do not know enough about plastic to separate them into recyclables and non-recyclables. Therefore, most plastics undergo incineration, which wastes many valuable resources.
Sorting Is Difficult
Plastics are, unfortunately, a composite material. Composite materials have more than one type of raw material, and this makes recycling more complicated. The seven types of plastics mean thousands of combinations for different plastic items.
The different types of plastic are not all recyclable. Additionally, they may require different processes for recycling. Moreover, plastic requires certain additives to attain a specific color or texture.
These additives are considered impurities that affect melting points. This makes it harder to separate the plastics. Finally, some plastics have conjoining materials such as layers for insulation. The multi-layers make it time-consuming and expensive to recycle these plastics.
The ‘Second Hand’ Mentality
Unfortunately, recycled plastic has a negative mentality tied to it. Businesses and individuals think of it as a second-hand item that sells at a higher retail price. Therefore, recycled plastic has a weak market.
Unfortunately, this makes it less likely for people and businesses to buy products made from recycled plastic. Therefore the demand for new plastic increases, and since people do not buy recycled plastic products, it cripples the process.
However, it is important to note that large corporations can tip the scale and make recyclable products ‘buy worthy.’ For example, brands like Nestle and Coca-Cola have committed to incorporating post-consumer resin in their products.
It has skyrocketed the demand for recycled plastic. This has also made packaging suppliers more willing to use recycled plastic to keep contracts with big brands.
Lack Of Market Demand
Unfortunately, not all plastic has market demand. Only recycled PET and HDPE have a mature market. The demand for PET has increased as more businesses use it to make polyester and nylons for fashion items. Additionally, it is used to make more packaging materials.
HDPE demands rise as more brands commit to repurposing post-consumer plastics in their products. For example, Unilever has committed to environmentally friendly products by using recycled plastic. This increases the demand for recycled HDPE.
Therefore, other forms of plastic do not receive any recycling because there is no market for it. The focus on these two categories leaves five that continue to pollute the environment.
And finally, collaboration throughout the production chain is hurting recycling. Collaboration is needed throughout the production chain, including raw material suppliers, manufacturers, recyclers, and even consumers. The collaboration will help solve many problems such as sorting and will overall make recycling plastics a simpler process.
Is Recycling Effective?
Now with these challenges in mind, you may be wondering if recycling is worth it. People have criticized this practice stating that it is ineffective as recycling still demands the use of natural resources. Additionally, the plastic does not go away; it is just repurposed.
However, experts will tell you that recycling is worth it. It uses less natural resources and reduces dependency on landfills. Sure it does not eradicate the problem, but it will adequately delay it to retain a healthier environment.
The delay gives time for scientific advancements to find more sustainable ways to eradicate plastic. Therefore, doing your part in recycling helps.
How Do I Prepare Plastics For Recycling?
- Rinse food and liquids. First, you need to rinse the materials from the containers. Remember, any plastic with food, chemicals, and other liquids will not undergo recycling. Therefore, rinse them out and ensure that they dry well before taking them to a recycling bin.
- Check recycling labels for sorting. When taking out your trash, ensure that you sort it into recyclables. This calls for, first, learning about plastics. Then, ensure that you check the plastic before putting it into a category. This will help you rule out combined materials and the different plastics that recyclers cannot recycle. It makes it easier for the recyclers as well. Check the products for a number labeling to help you determine which plastics go where.
- Remove tags and labels. And finally, ensure that you remove labels, tags, and adhesive. If you can effectively remove these items, recycling will be a lot easier. Ensure that you check on the bottom for sell-by tags and other ‘impurities’ before disposing of the plastics. Impurities could send the whole batch to a landfill.
Is recycling good? Yes, by all means, recycling is necessary for a cleaner and healthier environment. Until the plastic problem gets a permanent eradication solution, recycling is the best way to buy time.
Recycling offers sustainability and will leave more land for human habitation as dependence on landfills decreases. More importantly, recycled plastic makes impressive products that end consumers can use to contribute to recycling.
Recycled products are slowly taking over, championed by poly furniture. Poly lumber creates sustainable and durable furniture that is best for outdoor settings.
We manufacture all our poly furniture from recycled plastics. The visuals and durability of our poly furniture go against the ‘second-hand mentality.’ From Adirondack chairs to poly tables, every single piece is durable and highly resistant.
And because poly furniture is a suitable replacement for outdoor wooden and metal furniture, more people are turning to this option with added advantages. So if you are looking for a good poly furniture manufacturer, you are in the right place.
You will become a trusted poly furniture supplier in your community with our products. Our products are affordable, long-lasting, and come in multiple colors. We also customize to meet your consumer’s needs.
We are dedicated to efficiency, which you will get when you work with us. Trust us to be your poly furniture, manufacturing partner. Call us for an opportunity to do great things with your business.