The demand for plastics is increasing worldwide, and more and more waste is consequently being generated. However, it can be recycled and returned to production with a high degree of quality.Read more
Plastic recycling is the process of recovering waste or scrap plastic and reprocessing these materials into other functional and useful products.
Table of content:
- Why should we recycle plastic?
- Is plastic recyclable?
- How plastic is recycled?
- The latest innovations in plastic recycling
- Plastic recycling companies
- Articles about Plastic Recycling
Because almost all plastic is non-biodegradable, it is crucial that it is recycled as part of the global efforts to reducing plastic and other solid waste in the environment.
The goals of plastic recycling are:
- Reducing the high rates of plastic pollution that cause environmental problems
- Putting less pressure on virgin materials to produce new plastic products
Why should we recycle plastic?
Plastics should be recycled because of a number of reasons:
- Plastic recycling helps to conserve resources and diverts plastics from landfills or unintended destinations such as oceans (Approximately 8 million tons of plastic waste enters the world’s oceans each year).
- Recycling plastic requires less energy than making plastic from raw materials.
- Plastic recycling helps to reduce fossil fuel consumption, since virgin plastic is produced directly from the petrochemical feedstock, such as natural gas or crude oil.
- The process of recycling plastic is less expensive and less time-consuming compared to manufacturing new plastic using virgin material.
How much plastic is recycled?
Every year more than 400 million tons of plastic waste is produced in the world, of which only 9 percent is recycled.
Approximately 80 percent of waste generated from plastic accumulates in landfills or in the environment, and around 11 percent is incinerated.
Is plastic recyclable?
No, not all plastic is recyclable. Much of the plastic ends up in the landfill. This is either because it is currently not possible to recycle, individuals don't take it to be recycled or local authorities don't accept it.
What are plastics made of?
Plastics are derived from organic materials found in nature, such as cellulose, natural gas, oil, coal, minerals, and even plants. Most plastics, however, are from the hydrocarbons that are readily available in natural gas, oil and coal.
What plastic is recyclable?
Some types of plastic are highly recyclable, while others simply aren’t. The key to which plastics are recyclable is to examine the plastic for that little triangle made of arrows, and then look up the number inside it. Plastic numbers 1, 2, 4 & 5 can be recycled.
- #1 PETE or PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate)
Polyethylene Terephthalate is a common form of plastic, used to form soft drink bottles, peanut butter jars, salad dressing, cooking oil, many cleaning products.
- #2 HDPE (High-Density Polyethylene)
High-Density Polyethylene is a thicker form of plastic, used for a wide variety of products due to its extreme durability. Mostly used for packaging detergents, bleach, milk containers, hair care products, and motor oil. Is recycled into more bottles or bags.
- #3 PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride)
Polyvinyl Chloride is softer plastic, used for plastic wrap, teething rings, inflatable pool toys, as well as pipes and tubes. Its high tolerance for sunlight and weather phenomena make it ideal for use in garden hoses, trellises, and other outdoors products.
- #4 LDPE (Low-Density Polyethylene)
Low-Density Polyethylene Is used for grocery bags, garment bags, and bread bags. LDPE is considered less toxic than other plastics, and relatively safe for use. It is not commonly recycled, however, although this is changing in many communities today as more plastic recycling programs gear up to handle this material. When recycled, LDPE plastic is used for plastic lumber, landscaping boards, garbage can liners and floor tiles.
- #5 PP (Polypropylene)
Polypropylene plastic is tough and lightweight and has excellent heat-resistance qualities. It serves as a barrier against moisture, grease, and chemicals.
- #6 PS (Polystyrene)
Polystyrene by the name alone, you can guess its function. We often refer to this material as ‘styrofoam,’ and see it most commonly used in takeaway boxes at restaurants, to-go cups for hot or cold beverages, egg cartons, and packaging peanuts. A versatile substance, it is also used as insulation and sheeting for laminate flooring. While the technology for recycling polystyrene is available, the market for recycling is small.
- #7 Other (BPA, Polycarbonate, and LEXAN)
This category includes a variety of plastic types, some of which are recyclable and some of which are not. You’ve doubtless heard of BPA and its negative connotations.
You may not have heard of PLA, a new form of compostable plastic made from corn starch. While PLA is compostable, it, along with the other #7s, are not recyclable.
Industrial plastic waste
Recyclers that process industrial plastic waste are very selective in their acceptance of the collected plastic waste. They are actively looking for plastic waste streams that are suitable for recycling into regranulate or products for their buyers. In this manner, some of the industrial plastic waste material can be recycled in a profitable manner, with limited processing.
How plastic is recycled
Plastic recycling is broken up into different stages so that it can be further used for making various types of products. Generally, these stages remain the same for most types of recycling facilities, but certain steps can be combined or omitted in some situations.
The following is a step by step process of plastic recycling:
Plastics are available in a number of forms for example plastic bottles, plastic bags, plastic containers, packaging plastic, industrial plastics etc. The first step in the recycling process is always collecting these plastic materials that are to be recycled.
After plastics are collected and transported to a recycling facility, the next step is sorting. There are specially designed systems that help in sorting of the plastics according to their particular resin content. This is important because different types of plastics must be processed in different ways and some recycling facilities are only capable of recycling certain types of plastic.
Compact sorted plastics into square and tight bales using a baler, to save in storage and transportation.
After a complete separation, the plastic waste needs to be washed properly to remove impurities such as labels, adhesives or even food residue. Non-plastic waste cannot be recycled and can cause the final product to have poor structural integrity.
Resizing consists of shredding or granulating the plastic waste into small particles. This increases the surface area of the plastic, making it easier to process, reshape, and transport if needed. For efficiency purposes, automatic feeding of the material into the shredder is a good solution.
- Identification and Classification of Plastic
After shredding, proper testing of the plastic particles is conducted to determine their quality and class. The first quality tested is density. Next, their air classification is determined.
The dry flakes are melted down. They can be melted down and molded into a new shape or they are melted down and processed into granules.
- Making of pellets
After the melting process, the plastic pieces are then compressed into tiny pellets known as nurdles. Compounding is when the small particles are smashed and melted together into plastic pellets. In this state, the plastic pellets are ready for reuse or be redesigned into new plastic products. Plastic pellets are delivered to plastic manufacturing facilities to make new forms of plastic products.
Throughout this process, the plastic may be moved to different plants that specialize in different steps of the process.
The latest innovations in plastic recycling
Innovations in recycling technologies have made the plastic recycling process more cost-effective and easier. Examples of these technologies include reliable detectors and sophisticated decision and recognition software that collectively enhance the productivity and accuracy of automatic sorting of plastics.
Another important innovation in plastic recycling has been in finding higher value applications for recycled polymers in closed-loop recycling processes.
Plastic recycling technology
A lot of plastic waste ends up being incinerated due to the technical limitations of mechanical plastic recycling technology. The quality of plastic deteriorates as the number of recycling loops increases, and various types of plastic may prove impossible to separate from the get-go. However, with innovative plastic recycling technology, for example, through chemical recycling, plastics and their mixtures can be broken down into separate raw materials, whose quality is equal to that of respective virgin materials.
Plastic recycling companies
A plastic recycling company includes a large base of scrap suppliers, a recycling plant, shipping facilities, and buyers of the end product. Plastic recycling companies prefer to purchase directly from larger suppliers, such as retail stores and chain restaurants. Any successful plastic recycling company needs an uninterrupted supply of scrap plastic.
Articles about Plastic Recycling
Subscribe to our E-Newsletters
Updates from The UK Plastics Pact annual report show progress in the fight against single-use plastic, but how can others follow in their footsteps? Andrea Falco provides comment on how businesses can continue the good work.Read more
At this year’s Propak East Africa in Nairobi from 17 to 19 March, visitors to the shared trade fair stand (D9 in the Tsavo Hall) can find out how the recycling company Mr. Green Africa combines social responsibility with the highest specification technology and cost effectiveness.Read more
For the third time in a row, Starlinger has been shortlisted for the prestigious Plastics Recycling Awards Europe. This year, the company enters the race with a holistic concept entitled “circular packaging”, which seeks to end unnecessary waste in the product life cycle of big bags made from polypropylene fabric.Read more
The HolyGrail2.0 project, consisting of more than 20 huge brands, investigated in how far the tagging of plastic packages with a digital barcode can have a drastic impact on more accurate sorting and high-quality recycling.Read more
5 million tons per year. That is the unsettling amount of waste plastics that used to go to China but now stay in the EU and UK.Read more
Plastic has become an indispensable feature of modern life, and has many redeeming qualities: it is flexible and strong, as well as light; it can be used in place of natural resources such as ivory or wood and is very good for keeping foods fresh, just to mention a few.Read more