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Plastic recycling is the process of recovering waste or scrap plastic and reprocessing these materials into other functional and useful products.
Table of content:
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.
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 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
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