Plastic recycling is the process of recovering and reprocessing plastic scrap or waste into useful and functional products. The main objective of recycling plastic is to reduce plastic pollution and also to reduce the pressure of creating brand new plastic products.
Importance of Recycling Plastic
Plastic is inexpensive, durable, and lightweight. It can be easily molded into various other functional plastic products. More than 100 million tons of plastics are manufactured every year globally. Therefore, the reuse, recovery, and recycling of plastic is extremely important. These processes help conserve resources and reduce the amount of plastic ending up in landfills and oceans.
Types of Plastic
The following are the 6 common types of plastics
- Polypropylene(PP)-take-out food containers, lunch boxes, ice cream containers
- Polystyrene(PS)- plastic cutlery or foam hot drink cups
- Plasticized Polyvinyl chloride or polyvinyl chloride(PVC)- juice or squeeze bottles
- Low-density polyethylene(LDPE)-garbage bags
- Polyethylene terephthalate(PET)- soft drink bottles
- High-density polyethylene(HDPE)- milk bottles or shampoo containers
What Plastics Are Recyclable?
Right now, under the curbside recycling programs, only HDPE, PET, and PVC plastic products are recycled. The other plastics – PS, PP, and LDPE – cannot be recycled as they typically get stuck in the sorting equipment, causing the equipment to stop or break.
Bottle tops and lids cannot be recycled. Some types of plastics are not recycled because they are economically not feasible.
Quick Plastic Recycling Facts
- Americans use 2.5 million plastic bottles every hour, most of which are thrown away.
- Plastics contribute to 10% of total global waste generation.
- Every year around 100,000 marine mammals and 1 million seabirds get killed, eating small pieces of plastics that end up in the oceans.
- Plastics can take 100 years to degrade.
- Currently, around 50% of plastics are thrown after a single-use.
- Recycling plastic takes 88% less energy than producing plastics from new raw materials.
- One plastic bottle recycled can save energy that can power a 100 watt light bulb for nearly an hour.
Stages in Plastic Recycling
Before any plastic waste is recycled, it needs to go through six different stages so that it can be further used for making various types of products. Here are the six steps of plastic recycling:
Collecting the plastic to be recycled depends on how businesses, restaurants, and the public dispose of their plastic waste. If plastic wastelands up in normal trash bins, it cannot be recycled. Therefore, it is important to separate common waste and plastic waste.
The collected plastic waste is then taken to a recycling facility for sorting. The machines sort the plastic into different areas depending upon its properties, and what final product is being produced.
Plastics are sorted are based on the type, color, or how it was made. Sorting is important because each type of plastic has to be processed differently, and most recycling facilities are only capable of recycling one type of plastic.
The sorted plastic is then washed to remove impurities, such as labels and adhesives. This enhances the quality of the finished product. If the non-plastic waste is not removed, it can result in a final product that has poor structural integrity.
Shredding or Resizing
The plastic waste is loaded into different conveyor belts that run the waste through the different shredders. These shredders tear up the plastic into small pellets, thus increasing its surface area. Smaller pellets of plastic make it easier to process, reshape, and transport them if needed. Metal detectors or magnets are used to remove any leftover metal in the mixture.
Identification and Classification of Plastic
In this step, the small plastic particles are tested to determine their quality and class. The first test is to check the density. The particles are put in a large tank of water. Denser particles sink and less dense ones float. The next test is air classification, which determines how thin or thick the particle is. The particles are dropped into a small wind tunnel. The bigger ones remain low, and the smaller ones fly higher up.
Additionally, the sample particles from each batch are collected and analyzed to test their melting point and color.
Compounding or Extruding
In this step, the shredded plastic is melted and extruded into pellets, which are used for future plastic product production.
Challenges for the Plastic Recycling Industry
Some of the challenges faced by the plastic recycling industry are as follows
- Cost-effective and efficient recycling of the mixed plastic stream. Experts believe that designing plastic products and packaging keeping recycling in mind can help.
- Recovery and recycling of post-consumer flexible packaging. The local authorities and most material recovery cannot actively collect plastic waste due to the lack of equipment that can efficiently separate plastic waste.
- Oceanic plastic pollution is expected to triple in the next decade. This is a public concern that has prompted many organizations to take steps to better manage plastic resources and prevent plastic pollution.
Plastic recycling also helps boost economic development by generating employment opportunities, maximizes landfill diversions, and helps industries save big on landfill taxes. The money saved can then be invested on effective plastic recycling process. More and more industries are embracing a sustainable approach by adopting the plastic recycling process.
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