How is plastic recycled?
Have you ever wondered how recycling companies recycle your business waste? It’s a surprisingly complex process involving multiple stages.
What’s interesting about plastic is that once you recycle it, you cannot usually recycle it again. The processing of recycled plastic turns it into a non-recyclable product. Mostly, you can use plastic twice, but strangely, not more than that.
Let’s take a look at how the recycling process works in the UK at most waste management facilities specialising in plastic items.
Sorting/Segregation at Source
The first part of the recycling process is to sort it, collecting all items made from the same material into various siloes.
The recycling process relies on placing like materials with like before they go through a shredding and granulating machine. Recyclers need to sort the plastic if they use the depolymerisation technique (which we'll discuss below).
Compacting/Baling the Material to Optimise Transport
Plastic is bulky stuff. What’s more, there are only a few recycling facilities around the country which can recycle plastic efficiently. The majority goes to just a handful of sites.
The next step of the process, therefore, is designed to make transporting it from A to B easier. Recycling organisations realised a long time ago that the best way to do it was to compact plastic down into small bales so that they could load more of it on the back of a truck. Soon, compacting the plastic became the norm, cutting the overall cost.
Collection and Environmental Paperwork/Compliance
The UK government has pledged to reduce the amount of plastic waste that goes to landfill. Businesses, therefore, are looking for more opportunities to recycle.
Most companies use a third-party waste disposal company who provide a recycling collection service from their premises and takes it off to the depot for them. The nice thing about collection companies is that they deal with all the environment paperwork and compliance issues for you. You’re free to get on with your business activities as usual.
The Recycling Process: What Happens?
What actually happens in the plastic recycling process?
There are currently two main methods that recycling companies use to recycle plastic waste: heat compression and the monomer technique.
Heat compression is the most basic and generic process available today. During heat compression, technicians add the plastic to a large heated tumbler which mixes all the particles. The heat breaks down the individual particles and creates a liquid which can then be extruded into a variety of shapes or shipped off to third-party companies for manufacturing.
People like the heat compression technique because you don’t need to sort the plastic beforehand. It all gets heated and churned together, creating a generic product suitable for the creation of certain, plastic-derived products later.
Monomer, the other technique, reverses the chemical process that leads to the formation of plastics in the first place - something called reverse polymerisation. Recall from your school chemistry classes that polymerisation is the process of linking many molecules together in a long string. These chemical links are what gives plastic its unique qualities and strength. Reversing the process purifies the polymer (giving you just one type of plastic) and also enables you to transform it into whatever new polymer you like.
Many consider monomer to be the gold standard for plastic recycling because it breaks plastic down into the constituent, chemical components.
You can’t recycle all plastics using these methods. At present, you can recycle PET plastics, used most commonly in milk bottles and chemical containers. You can also recycle HDPE plastic which stands for high density polyethylene. You find this plastic in rigid plastic containers, like toys and oil bottles.
What Recycled Plastics Used For?
The plastic you recycle can be made into all sorts of things.
The plastic material used for large bottles and containers is a different kind of plastic used in plastic bags and wraps. Manufacturers use this kind of plastic to make plastic lumber, picnic tables and lawn furniture. You might even find your recycled bottles as part of a brand new recycling bin, ready to collect more recycled plastic.
Your business might also recycle a lot of foam packaging. Imagining what foam packaging will be made into is difficult because it doesn’t look like anything else you might buy or use.
Most foam packaging products are 95 per cent air. The plastic component is only a small fraction of the total volume. Foam packaging can become new plastic products, such as picture frame or building materials. Checking the recycling symbol can also tell you the type of plastic your waste material is made from. Recycled material is desirable in re-manufacturing from an environmental and cost perspective. Plastic pellets are always in demand when oil prices are higher.
If you'd like to discuss recycling plastic for your business then please do contact our team to assist you.
Need help recycling plastic for your business? Make sure you contact our team on 0845 366 9306 today!