In a mere blink of human history – just over a century – plastic has woven itself into the very fabric of our existence. From the toys that cradle our children’s dreams to the packaging that safeguards our food, these ubiquitous materials are a hallmark of 21st-century life. Yet, this convenience comes at a cost. Since the 1950s, a staggering 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic have been produced, and a sobering 6.3 billion metric tons – roughly 76% – have morphed into waste. Disconcertingly, only a meager 9% of this plastic mountain has been recycled.

The reasons behind this low number are complex. But a glimmer of hope flickers amidst the growing tide of plastic waste. Technological advancements and a shift in consumption patterns are paving the way for a more efficient and responsible future for plastic use.

Plastic is made from materials such as petrochemicals that can pollute and harm the environment and humans. If you do not manage plastic correctly, you will have tons of reusable waste materials. To reduce the harmful effects of excessive plastic, recycling is necessary.

Plastic recycling process is the procedure of gathering waste plastic and converting it into useful plastic products. Since almost a trillion pounds of plastic is produced yearly, it is necessary to recycle it to avoid letting it go to waste!

Let’s Learn About the Plastic Recycling Process

Why Is It Important to Recycle 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.


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.

7 Types of Plastic

The following are the 7 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
  • Miscellaneous Plastics (Polycarbonate, Polylactide, Acrylic, Acrylonitrile butadiene, Styrene, Fiberglass, and Nylon)

Which Plastics Can Be Recycled?

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. The plastics that cannot be recycled curbside are – Small Plastics, Plastic wraps, Plastic Bags, Wrappers, Polystyrene Foam, Deodorant, Flexible packaging, Polycarbonate, and BPA.

Bottle tops and lids cannot be recycled. Some types of plastics are not recycled because they are economically not feasible.

Why Should You Rinse Your Plastic Waste?

Rinsing before disposing of plastic makes the plastic recycling process easier at the facilities. The odor produced by the used plastics is eliminated. Moreover, contamination that could affect the quality of recycled plastic at the end stage is reduced.

Removing contamination to some extent is important because plastic with food waste or other contaminants is rejected and not recycled. Hence, make a habit of quickly rinsing plastic materials before throwing them in the recycling bins.

How Is Plastic Recycled?

Before any plastic waste is recycled, it needs to go through 7 different stages so that it can be further used for making various types of products.

Here are the 7 steps of the plastic recycling process:

how is plastic recycled

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  1. Collection

    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.

  2. Sorting

    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 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.

  3. Washing

    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.

  4. 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.

  5. Melting

    Dried flakes are melted and molded into the desired shape or are further processed into granules. The flakes are melted with the help of regulated temperatures with specialized equipment to ensure that they are not destroyed.

  6. Identification and Classification

    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 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.

  7. Compounding or Extruding

    In this step, the shredded plastic is melted and extruded into pellets, which are used for future plastic product production.

A detailed video on how plastic is sorted, processed, and recycled.

What Are the Benefits of Recycling Plastic?

Reducing plastic-produced waste is heavily beneficial for the environment. Apart from this, there are several other advantages:

  • Reduces Pollution

    During the production of plastic, a lot of oil is burnt. This creates a huge quantity of toxic greenhouse gases. But when plastic is recycled instead of creating it from the start, the poisonous emissions are eliminated to a huge extent! Apart from air, producing plastic disrupts other elements in our ecosystem. It also contaminates the soil and water. Plastic waste contains dangerous compounds. When the waste is not disposed of properly, animals in the water or on earth can ingest it and die. During recycling, the plastic is taken to proper recycling centers where it is properly recycled and made reusable.

  • Conserves Energy

    Production of only one ton of plastic requires almost 5,774 Kilowatt-hours of energy, 16 barrels of oil, 1,000 to 2,000 gallons of gasoline, and 30.4 cubic yards of landfill space. Other natural resources like coal, natural gas, oil, and water are also used as raw materials. However, recycling plastic can save up to 66% of the energy used. Moreover, it conserves all the non-renewable sources used during plastic production.

    Read a detailed post about How Recycling Save Energy?

  • Saves Landfills

    As the human population expands, the demand for habitable land increases. To keep up with the rising requirement, space for landfills is depleting with each passing day. However, with proper waste management through recycling, approximately 7.4 cubic meters of landfill spaces can be saved.

  • Decreases Demand for Fossil Fuel

    Fossil fuel, crude oil, natural gas, and coal are some of the non-renewable resources required to make plastic products. But when plastic is recycled, the demand for these resources decreases, ultimately saving them.

  • Increases Employment Opportunities

    Collecting and recycling plastics has generated a lot of jobs and opened up new business avenues which garner huge profits. In the long run, this industry will improve the economy and boost the standard of living of many people.

What Are the Challenges of Recycling Plastic?

Some of the challenges faced by the plastic recycling industry are as follows

The Latest Technologies in Plastic Recycling Process

Innovations are constant in every field. Even recycling has evolved, making the recycling process more cost-effective and easier than before.

Recognition and detector software are introduced to enhance the accuracy and productivity of automatic plastic sorting. Another innovation has been discovered in applying higher-value applications for recycled polymers in recycling processes.

Some Europeans collect rigid packaging like tubs, pots, and trays. All thanks to the advanced sorting and washing technique that makes non-bottle plastic recycling feasible.

The Challenges Faced in the Plastic Recycling Industry

Finding an efficient and cost-effective recycling method is still a major problem for the plastic recycling industry. However, according to some experts, designing recycling-friendly plastic packaging can solve this.

Another problem the industry faces is recovering and recycling post-consumer flexible packaging. This arises because local authorities refuse to collect them due to the unavailability of proper equipment.

Some items like water bottles are made from single plastic, which can easily be recycled. However other design products use mixed varieties that are hard to insert into the recycling process. Hence, they don’t end up in the recycling facility.

While there is a widespread acknowledgement of recycling plastic, the audience and businesses still lack information on doing it effectively. This results in the contamination of recyclable plastics, which ends up in landfills rather than recycling centers.

Plastic Recycling Industry Association

Plastic Recycling Industry Associations promote plastic recycling, enable and maintain relations between plastic recyclers, and lead the plastic recycling industry to advancement.

Three main Plastic Recycling Industry Associations take care of the industry:

  • The Association of Plastic Recyclers (APR)

    It comprises members with plastic recycling companies, manufacturers of plastic recycling equipment, consumer plastic product companies, and laboratories that look for the succession of plastic recycling.

  • Plastics Recyclers Europe (PRE)

    They represent recyclers in Europe. With over 120 members, the PRE organizes plastic recycling meetings and shows to discuss challenges and advancements in the plastic recycling industry.

  • Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI)

    ISRI includes over 1600 companies, processors, manufacturers, industrial consumers, and brokers. They provide equipment and services to the recycling industry.

Tips to Remember for the Plastic Recycling Process

Since you are aware of the endless benefits of plastic recycling, even you should start practicing the habit of sending plastic products to recycling centers! But before you do so, here are some tips to remember:

  • Before dumping the plastic waste into a recycling bin, thoroughly clean it! Rinsing it off eliminates odor and elements that could contaminate it. Moreover, it also reduces the chances of getting your plastic waste rejected at the center.
  • Always look for recycled products while shopping.
  • When you are disposing of plastic waste at centers, flatten cardboard. It will make some more room in your recycling bin for more items to recycle.

Plastic recycling facts

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If you too want to take an eco-friendly approach to plastic disposal, check out our extensive inventory of industrial trash compactors, balers, and plastic shredders for efficient and cost-effective recycling.

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  1. Are Plastic Bags Recyclable?

    Plastic bags are a particular kind of film plastic that shouldn’t be recycled at home. Instead of throwing plastic bags and other film plastics in the garbage, you can recycle them at big-box retailers, malls, and medium- to large-sized chain businesses.

  2. Are Plastic Straws Recyclable?

    Plastic straws are not recyclable due to their small size, which can cause them to slip through machinery at recycling facilities. They also do not biodegrade and can contribute to micro-plastic pollution that harms ocean and aquatic life. To minimize their environmental impact, it’s better to avoid using plastic straws altogether.

  3. Is Plastic Wrap Recyclable?

    In general, plastic wrap is not recyclable in curbside recycling programs due to its thin and flexible nature. Plastic wrap can get tangled in recycling machinery, causing operational issues. It’s best to check with local recycling programs or seek alternative ways to reduce or reuse plastic wrap to minimize its impact on the environment.

Content resources:

The Complete Plastics Recycling Process