It is estimated that we use five million tonnes of plastic every year in the UK, and almost half of that is packaging. This is a big issue because plastic does not degrade naturally and it causes a lot of environmental problems. There has been a big drive to reduce plastic use in the last few years, inspired mainly by the impact that it has on the oceans. But even though the situation is improving and companies are making an effort to find more sustainable forms of packaging, there is still a lot of plastic out there. Finding ways to recycle plastic is vital if we are going to reduce the impact that it has on the environment.

Being Green

The main reason that most companies recycle is to be green. This is important in an ethical sense, in that you want to make sure that you are doing your bit not to harm the planet too much, and it is also a matter of cultivating a particular image that you know people are going to respond well to. If you are green in business, it means that people are generally going to respect you a lot more, and you will find that this really does make a huge difference to how you are perceived on the whole. So as both a branding concern and an environmental one, it is certainly beneficial to be as green as you can possibly be.

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How Much Plastic Do We Recycle?

Currently, almost all councils in the country offer a system for recycling plastic bottles, but what about other forms of plastic? 

Mixed plastics like tubs, trays and plastic films can be mechanically recycled and it is beneficial to the environment to do that. It is also very cost-effective, but the recycling rate for mixed plastic is still lower than plastic bottle recycling. 

Key Plastic Recycling Facts

  • 32 percent of all plastic is recycled.  
  • 74 percent of plastic bottles are recycled. 
  • 43 percent of plastic packaging is recycled.

Source – British Plastics Federation

How Is Plastic Recycled?

Plastic recycling is done in two stages; sorting and processing. 

The recovered plastic will be sorted automatically by a machine, but there is also the need for manual sorting as well. This is to remove any plastic that is contaminated, like dirty food containers or shampoo bottles, for example. That is why it is so important that you wash plastic products at home before you recycle them.

Once the plastic is sorted, it can then be processed into new plastic products. The plastic will be shredded into flakes and washed, or melted to form pellets. These pellets or flakes will then be melted down and moulded into new plastic items. 

A lot of the recycled plastic will be used to make more packaging, plastic bottles, or carrier bags, but some of it can be used to create polymers for manufacturing clothes. This reduces a lot of the environmental impact caused by the fashion industry. Some plastic is even used to create building materials that replace traditional lumber. 

The majority of plastic products can only be recycled once, so a lot of the new products that they are used for will still end up in landfill. 

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What Kind Of Plastic Can Be Recycled?

There is a wide range of different types of plastic, but they fall into two main categories; biodegradable plastics and non-biodegradable plastics. Biodegradable plastics are made from bio-based sources, while non-biodegradable plastics, like polypropylene (pp) are made from fossil sources, like oil. Only non-biodegradable plastics can be recycled, while biodegradable ones can be composted either at an industrial scale facility or, in some cases, at home. 

All plastics have labels and a resin identification code on them, which should tell you whether they can be recycled or not. It is important that biodegradable plastics do not go in the recycling collection bin with non-biodegradable plastics because they cannot be recycled using the pp recycling method. Before throwing any plastic away, always check for the recycling symbol. 

What Are The Environmental Benefits Of Plastic Recycling?

We use a lot of plastic every single day, and that does a lot of damage to the environment, which is why waste management and recycling systems for plastics are so important. By recycling plastic products, we can reduce our need for new plastics. This allows us to conserve fossil fuels that are normally used to create new plastics. We can also cut the amount of energy that is used to create new plastic products and reduce carbon emissions as a result. Finally, recycling plastic products means that plastic is used again, rather than going straight to landfill or ending up in the oceans where it does a lot of damage.

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HDPE Pipe Recycling

What Are The Problems With Plastic Recycling?

Although plastic recycling has come a long way and the majority of local authorities have a good recycling process in place, there are still some issues. Certain plastic products, like flexible pouches or microwaveable trays, are not yet recyclable. This plastic is still going to landfill and some of it may be incinerated, which is bad for the environment as well. 

At the moment, a lot of money is being invested in developing new technologies which will allow us to recycle more plastic types, but in the meantime, you should make an effort to avoid using plastics that cannot be recycled.