Table Of Contents
At every turn and in every corner, you’ll see plastic everywhere. From plastic ID cards to grocery bags and soda bottles, it’s almost impossible to end a day without handling or seeing plastic.
In most cases, plastics are made from petrochemicals. It’s important to note that this high number of plastics around us presents multiple advantages and disadvantages. For example, plastic can pollute the environment and cause litter.
This can put everyone in danger and cause harm to the environment. Not correctly managing plastic only makes the production of new ones a waste of time and resources. This is why it’s essential to recycle plastic.
This article will run you through everything you should know about recycling plastic.
What Is Plastic Recycling?
This involves different procedures that are used in gathering plastic waste and converting them to valuable and new plastic products with various applications. Today, statistics show that the world utilises more than a trillion pounds (4.5 trillion kg) of plastic materials for plastic production alone. Therefore, recycling helps in reducing plastic waste.
Common Recycled Plastics
Do you know that recycling almost all the plastic we see every day is possible? Here are the most common recyclable plastics around us:
Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET)
This plastic is one of the most popular types of thermoplastics today, and it’s basically a thin material that is perfect for use in producing products with low pressure. Examples of items made with polyethylene terephthalate include soft drink bottles and clothing fibres.
Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC)
Another popular type of thermoplastic that we see all around us today is polyvinyl chloride. PVC is the plastic choice for making cling films, bottles, pipes, and wires.
High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE)
This is also a thermoplastic and is much more flexible and softer than PVC. Products that are made from high-density polyethylene include pipes and gallons.
Low-Density Polyethylene (LDPE)
This is the exact opposite of HPDE, and they are the preferred choice for making items like plastic bags. It’s important to note that they are not as easy to recycle compared to the other materials mentioned above. However, they can be cleaned easily and reused.
These are the most common types of plastics that are recyclable. However, it’s best to note that not every type of plastic can be recycled. This is because they are all made from different materials, and in many cases, recycling some of these plastics is not economical.
Sometimes, it’s due to the high cost or long recycling process. In other cases, it’s the ineffectiveness of the recycling process. For example, there are some plastic materials that cause the recycling equipment to break or stop if you place these materials in them. You might already be wondering about the categories of plastic that they fall under.
They include the following:
Examples of products that are made from this type of plastic material include yoghourt containers and plastic cutlery.
This is also a type of polymer, but manufacturers like to use it for plastic furniture, plastic jar lids, and plastic boxes. Most recycling companies reject this material for recycling. With everything said, it’s worth noting that recycling plastic entirely depends on the plastic material that it is made of.
In addition, the plastic materials not recycled only end up being deposited in landfills or destroyed. However, recycling is always the best option for plastic materials.
How Is Plastic Recycled?
There are different types of plastics as mentioned earlier. For the plastics that are recyclable, there are two methods used, and these are:
This is the most widespread method of recycling plastic. It’s also known as mechanical recycling and is the ideal option for thermoplastic materials. The technique basically involves melting the plastic materials and processing them into new plastic materials. After melting them, they are subjected to injection moulding, which converts them into newer products.
This is the process used in chemically breaking down plastic materials. There are three techniques that make up this type of recycling; chemical recycling, gasification, and pyrolysis.
Chemical recycling involves converting a polymer to a monomer to create new products. This is applied in making plastic products like nylon. Gasification involves converting the plastic materials to gas, and this option is devoted to creating energy from the produced gas.
On the other hand, pyrolysis is a process that is used in converting plastic waste into crude oil. This also comes in handy in generating energy and many other applications. It’s important to note that the two methods have their individual benefits, and their application depends on the available facilities. However, they all follow the same steps.
Process Of Plastic Recycling
The process of recycling plastic is an easy one, and it’s great for producing new plastic materials. However, these processes require paying attention to detail and other rigorous procedures that can take many months to complete.
Regardless of the type of plastic and the procedures used, it mostly follows the same steps most of the time. Here’s an outline of the different steps used in recycling plastic materials.
Step One: Plastic waste collection
Plastic waste collection is the first step in the recycling process. Even though this appears to be a relatively straightforward process, it’s not always as easy as it may seem. During this stage, volunteers or employees search for plastic materials in public places, offices, and homes.
There are also specific collection points where people dispose of their plastic materials.
Recyclers are also involved in this step, with some placing recycling bins in strategic locations like residential areas, industrial zones, and other public places. This is to make it a lot easier to collect plastic waste.
It’s worth noting that the bins are different from conventional refuse bins. Also, they are collected and transferred to recyclers for the recycling process to continue. In most cases, collecting this plastic waste and dropping them in bins attract different rewards. The idea is to encourage people to cultivate the habit of recycling plastic waste.
Step Two: Sorting plastics into different categories
The next step after the collection process is the sorting phase. This is the part of the process where all the collected materials are grouped into different categories. They are mostly sorted according to their thickness, use, colour, size, and other distinguishing features. Also, recycling machines sort the various plastics according to the properties they possess.
In many cases, resin content and the colour of the plastic are the most common distinguishing features that recyclers use when sorting plastic materials. Basically, sorting makes it a lot easier for the recycler to identify the type of material that is being recycled.
Step Three: Washing to remove dirt and impurities
After the sorting process, the next step is to wash the sorted plastic materials thoroughly. This removes dirt, particles, labels, and other impurities that can contaminate the new plastic material you want to make. Washing also helps to eliminate glue and other chemicals on the plastic material.
Another benefit of washing is that it helps in removing impurities that can damage the new plastic material to be produced. It’s worth mentioning that the contaminants are not plastic materials, and they cannot be recycled.
Step Four: Shredding and resizing
Shredding and resizing is the next step after you have thoroughly washed the collected and sorted plastics. Recycling plastic is a lot harder when they are still in their developed state.
This is why it’s necessary to resize them to different forms to facilitate the recycling process. The materials are placed into shredders during this process to quickly reduce their sizes to smaller pieces.
As mentioned earlier, it’s easier to process plastic when they are in smaller pieces, unlike when they are in their original form. With that said, shredding them is a great way to reprocess the plastic materials and recycle them into different products.
Step Five: Identification and separation of plastics
After shredding and resizing the plastic, the next thing is to identify and separate them. The plastic materials are subjected to different testing procedures at this stage, and this is to test the plastic to determine its quality and class. After the testing procedures, they are then separated into different categories according to their features.
It’s important to note that the testing process covers different features. A standard quality that is tested is density, and the process of determining density involves placing the plastic material in water. Particles that sink are less dense, while those that float on water are denser.
Air classification of the plastic material is also a quality that is tested during this step. It helps in determining the thickness of the plastic material. Recyclers place the plastic particles in a wind tunnel to determine their air classification. Basically, more extensive and thicker plastic stays at the lower end of the wind tunnel while the lighter and thinner ones float effortlessly.
Qualities like melting point and colour of the plastic are also identified during this step. Recyclers achieve this by testing samples of plastic materials to determine their colour and melting point. Once all the tests are performed, and the identification process is complete, the recyclers then separate the particles in preparation for the next step.
Step Six: Compounding
The final step in recycling plastic, irrespective of the recycling approach you use, is the compounding step. During this step, recyclers easily convert the plastic particles to different materials that manufacturers can reproduce. The compounding process involves melting and smashing the particles, and the goal is to create pellets. People mostly call this process extrusion.
In some cases, the plastics are moved to different areas for recycling. This can be to other plants to simplify the five steps above, and it can be because the recycling company does not have the capacity to handle the recycling project.
Once this step is completed, pellet processing is then used in producing non-plastic products and new plastic. It’s worth noting that this last step is time- and energy-consuming, which is why recyclers need to know the end product they are after.
Benefits Of Plastic Recycling
We have gone through the different steps used in recycling plastic, and now it’s time to go through the benefits of recycling plastic.
Many still wonder whether recycling plastic is a great idea, especially considering all the steps mentioned above. Why don’t we dump plastic in different places rather than recycle it? These benefits will convince you of the need to recycle plastic.
• Plastic recycling creates new job opportunities.
• The process reduces the quantity of trash that gets deposited into the ocean.
• Recycling plastic helps minimise the release of carbon dioxide, which is dangerous to the environment.
• It’s a strategy for the government to embrace to generate revenue.
• Recycling plastic emphasises the need to embrace sustainable living.
• Plastic recycling helps in reducing harmful activities like deforestation involved in the process of manufacturing plastic.
• It’s a great income source for people who volunteer to collect them.
• Plastic recycling reduces other forms of pollution.
• It helps in preventing global warming.
• Recycling is great for saving the petroleum used in manufacturing new plastics.
• It’s a great way to conserve space.
Plastic Waste Statistics
In addition to everything above, here are statistics to further emphasise the need to recycle plastic.
Australia uses up to 3.5 million tons of plastic yearly
A recent plastic flows and fates study from the Department of Water, Agriculture and Environment highlighted that Australians used about 3.5 million tons of plastic between the 2019 and 2020 financial year.
This number is only slightly lower than the amount used in previous years. During the early stages of the 21st century, Australians used up to 1.8 million tons of plastic. The numbers now only show that plastic demand continues to increase yearly.
About 60% of the consumed plastic in Australia is imported
Despite the high number of plastics Australians use every year, statistics also show that they mainly import plastic materials from different goods and products. Basically, 60% are from imported items, while the remaining 40% come from domestically produced items.
Australia generates about 75 million tons of waste yearly
The National Waste Report shows that Australia produced around 3 tons of waste per capita over the past few years. You might be wondering why these numbers are on the high side. Basically, the waste is from different sources.
An average Australian trashes 130kg of plastic yearly
Plastic pollution in Australia is an issue that requires urgent attention. The discouraging thing is that only about 130,000 tons of plastic are disposed of correctly yearly.
Australians use up to a million tons of single-use plastic yearly
One of the largest sources of plastic pollution not only in Australia but in different parts of the world result from single-use plastic materials. This is a significant problem because they are primarily used for a short period before being discarded. It’s also harder to recycle some of these single-use plastic materials.
AUS uses more than 5 billion single-use HDPE bags yearly
The numbers that statistics give are pretty alarming, but they further highlight the need for recycling correctly. These statistics highlight that more than 5 billion single-use bags are used every year. This only further increases the plastic pollution we have to deal with every year.
Households are responsible for up to half of all plastic waste
The big question is where these plastics actually come from. Industries have a role to play in all of this, but households remain the most significant contributors to plastic pollution. More than 1 million tons of plastic waste are from different households. After households, manufacturing companies are the next greatest producers of plastic waste.
The national plastic recycling rate is 12.5% in AUS
Considering the high number of plastics that are produced and used in Australia, you might already be wondering how much of these plastics get recycled. Reports show that only about 12.5% of plastics are eventually recycled correctly. Interestingly, the number has been steadily increasing, indicating that people are rapidly accepting recycling plastic methods.
There are so many interesting statistics for Australia alone regarding the use of plastic, plastic waste, and recycling. The statistics are also mind-blowing when viewed from a global perspective.
Getting Your Plastic Recycled
Plastic plays a fundamental role in our daily life, and this article has highlighted everything that you should know about recycling plastic. You’ll also find the different types of plastics that are recyclable and those that are not recyclable.
What follows after knowing the steps involved in recycling plastic and the different recyclable plastics? You will need to ensure that you properly dispose of plastic so that they are easily recycled. You can do this by hiring skip bin services, which help recycle your plastic or dispose of it properly.