Why is Recycling Plastic Important?
Plastic is one of the most important and useful materials mankind has created. It has wide-ranging applications due to its versatility and low cost. Unfortunately, this all comes at a cost.
Plastics can last for hundreds or even thousands of years in the environment, causing pollution to natural habitats, poisoning the food chain and littering our urban areas. The world is working to find solutions to close the loop on plastic production and bring about a circular economy.
Recycling is key to bringing about this change. It allows us to repurpose used plastic and slow down our unsustainable production of virgin materials which use significant amounts of crude oil to produce.
But how do we go about recycling plastic? It can be a complicated process due to how many different types of plastic there are but recycling facilities specialise in being able to separate material so each can be properly recycled.
The Process of Plastic Recycling
Plastic Recycling is a multistage process which takes place at Material Recovery Facilities (MRF), Plastic Recovery Facilities (PRF) or Recycling Centres.
- Plastic Collecting: The first stage and one of the most important is the collection. Plastic waste is collected from businesses, homes and schools to be sorted at plastic recycling specialists. Proper separation of the plastic materials during the collection stage is key for efficient recycling as it helps to reduce how much sorting needs to be done by recycling facilities and helps to reduce contamination of different plastic wastes. There are many things we as individuals can do to streamline this process of recycling. Manually separating things such as lids from bottles before throwing them away is important as these are different kinds of plastic.
- Plastic Sorting: Plastic is not all recycled as one. It needs to be filtered into its separate types and grades and be free of any non-recyclable materials. This is done through a variety of methods including:
- Manual picking to remove large items and non-recyclables
- Magnetic separators, used to remove metals
- Trommels, which are large cylindrical drums with holes small enough to allow finer materials to fall through
Following-on from these stages, the recovered plastic would pass through a sink-float separator that uses the natural differences in density to separate different plastic types (polymers) and further remove unwanted paper.
- Plastic Washing: Once plastics have been separated into their different polymers, they can now undergo the cleaning process. This is done to remove any adhesives, residual waste and food labels from the plastic. Washing involves two primary methods, the first of which is a friction wash which uses heat and kinetic energy to remove contaminants. Rotary washers use a chemical solution to clean the plastic of any contaminants such as oils which may be present and depending on the level of contamination, this can be done as a pre-wash.
- Plastic Shredding: Washed plastic can now begin being shredded using different methods depending on its classification. Using rotary cutters and guillotines, recyclers can ensure the sizing meets industry requirements as it is cut and shredded.
- Melting and Extrusion: In its final stage, the recycled plastic can now be melted and fed through an extruder which forms the plastic pellets once cooled. Recycled plastic pellets can then be used by manufacturers to form new plastics, beginning the cycle once more.
How can we do more to recycle Plastic?
Recycling is more important now than ever before. As technology improves and we improve in our ability to recycle, the amount of waste we recycle needs to be constantly increasing.
To maintain this rate of recycling innovation and improve our ability to recycle plastics, we should look to invest more in the industry and recycling facilities. Improved recycling facilities can increase the number of complicated materials that can be processed and the efficiency at which they are recycled. This could help reduce the amount of transportation required to reprocess waste, which has the added benefit of reducing the cost and carbon emissions of transport.
To help recycle more on an individual level, at home and in offices we could have more separation methods for our waste. Ensuring as much waste goes to recycling as possible and reducing contamination is key in streamlining the recycling process and reducing waste going to landfill.
Government legislation will be key to recycling more in the long term. Offering incentives and implementing more laws surrounding commercial recycling could have the biggest impact on our waste output. Setting higher and more optimistic recycling targets for manufacturers will encourage innovation when it comes to packaging, with manufacturers instead looking to use more renewable/biodegradable materials and less difficult-to-recycle plastic.
Our main goals as a waste management company are to help our clients move waste streams up the waste hierarchy. Recycling is a huge part of sustainably managing waste and we aim to close the loop on as many materials as we can and create a circular economy. If you would like to find out how we can help your business recycle more plastic, please fill in the contact form below: