One of the biggest issues we face in the world of recycling is what to do with plastic in all its many forms. It is one of the biggest waste products we produce globally and there are variety of different types that each need a particular handling process to deal with them. Plastics are collected in general waste from homes but it is also a significant part of both commercial and industrial waste.
The holy grail for plastics has been to recover as much as possible and use it to produce new products. While most kinds of plastic can be recycled, the percentage of each type that can be recovered by any process depends on logistical consideration, the cost and the technical considerations. It’s an area where we have become a lot more proficient in recent years but there is still a long way to go until we are on a par with ventures like paper recycling.
What is Plastic?
We use it so much nowadays that most people just take it for granted. It actually covers a wide range of synthetic compounds that can be easily moulded and can be used in a variety of products from drinks bottles to car parts. There are usually two types:
- Thermoplastic which can be melted to create objects and then re-melted again when they are recycled.
- Thermosetting which can be melted and shaped but cannot be melted again once they have set.
When you go to a recycling facility you will normally see different containers for different plastic products, for example, bottles and packaging as well as hard plastic such as guttering and buckets.
Types of Plastic
The essential problem with plastic is that it is an organic product but it is also non-biodegradable. It is not only one of the biggest challenges for recycling, it’s disposal is a constant source of problems for ecologists and green advocates – our oceans have around 8 million tonnes of plastic thrown into it every year. One of the big stumbling blocks is the presence of additives such as dyes that can cause damage during the recycling process, for instance, when heat is applied meaning that you have a less than pure end product.
Some common types of plastic we use every day include:
- Polyethylene Terephthalate which is used in bottles.
- High Density Polyethylene used for shampoo bottle, cleaning products and milk containers.
- Polyvinyl Chloride is hard plastic used in products such as guttering and car parts.
- Low Density Polyethylene which is found in your average bin bag or food packaging.
- Polypropylene used in everything from butter tubs to wall coverings and upholstery in cars.
- Polystyrene used in fast food packaging and product packing.
How Plastic is Recycled
After being transported to a sorting facility, plastics will be split into different piles according to their resin type. Much of this nowadays is done by automatic processes but you can still find facilities where it is done by hand. Separation can involve a fair range of mechanical processes including shredding where they are stripped of impure components such as paper labels. At the end of this part of the separation process you are usually left with small flakes of plastic that can then be transformed into new products.
Thermal depolymerisation and thermal compression are often used and can be applied to a number of different plastics depending on their type. These can either convert the plastic into petroleum or make them into pellets for manufacturing. These can then be used for creating other plastic products though they are not generally used for products like food packaging because it is difficult to achieve a pure replacement from recycling.
Hard plastic can be transformed into new products such as car bumpers and garden furniture. It’s also used in many construction products such as drainage pipes and flooring. Softer plastics such as bottles can be turned into material for waterproof jackets while film plastic is generally made into more bags for the supermarket and general shopping.
Moving to better recycling of plastic has removed a lot of our waste away from landfill, where it used to end up more often than not. More manufacturers and companies such as soft drink makers are also switching to containers that are made from plastics which are more easily recycled. Finding ingenious ways in which to use this recycled product is only just the start – chances are many of your household appliances and even carpets have some form recycled plastic in them.
If you’re company produces a large amount of plastic waste of different types, then you may be better off choosing a waste contractor that deals in this specific area. You can now search our full database for contractors in your local area.