What is Plastic Recycling?
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 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!
Why Recycling Plastic is Important?
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.
What are the 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
- Miscellaneous Plastics (Polycarbonate, Polylactide, Acrylic, Acrylonitrile butadiene, Styrene, Fiberglass, and Nylon)
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. The plastics that cannot be recycled curbside are – Small Plastics, Plastic wrap, Plastic Bags, some 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 plastic makes the recycling process easier at the facilities. The odor produced from 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 contaminations is rejected and not recycled. Hence, make a habit of quickly rinsing plastic materials before throwing them in the recycling bins.
What are the Stages in Plastic Recycling Process?
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.
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.
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.
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 Challenges for the Plastic Recycling Industry?
Some of the challenges faced by the plastic recycling industry are as follows
The Latest Technologies in Plastic Recycling
Innovations are constant in every field. Even recycling has evolved, making the recycling processes 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. But 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 acknowledgment of recycling plastic, the audience and businesses still lack information on doing it effectively. This results in 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 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 advancement 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.
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. Call us at 1-800-464-3095 to learn more about our products and services.
Infographic credit: bennuworld.com
Compactor Management Company (former Northern California Compactors, Inc.) offers installation and support services for waste recycling equipment such as waste compactors, balers, shredders & conveyor systems. Established in 1981, it offers waste management solutions across the United States.