We all have a responsibility to protect our planet and we all need to make a concerted effort to recycle items and operate as eco-friendly as possible. This is something that we can help you to achieve here at Plastic Expert and below, we explain everything you need to know about HDPE recycling.

An introduction to HDPE plastic

Most commonly known as Polyethylene, HDPE is processed into two different forms. Although there are many types of Polyethylene, it can be categorized as Low Density and High Density. Here we will be looking at High-Density Polyethylene; the stronger and heavier of the two plastics. In particular, we will be looking not only at the HDPE Recycling process but also the recycling of HDPE film.

If you are wondering what kind of things are made from HDPE, consider milk bottles, detergent bottles, bleach bottles, shampoo bottles, and tupperware. HDPE film is widely used in warehouses, as its tensile strength is excellent and is resistant to corrosive chemicals. It can be used for food contact and it can be sterilized easily. Chemicals previously used for food contact were found to leach chemicals. Because HDPE film is transparent, it has many other beneficial uses.

HDPE Pipe Recycling
Rigid Plastic Bales

Where is this sort of plastic found in businesses?

As HDPE is a very popular type of plastic, it can be easily found in businesses such as:

  • Utility Pipes
  • Boxes and Pallets
  • Thin-film plastic shopping bags
  • Containers and drums
  • Cosmetic containers, i.e. shampoo, conditioner, and facial wash
  • Cleaning product containers – laundry detergent, all-purpose cleaners etc.
  • Household containers
  • IBC Containers

Environmental facts about HDPE plastic

Before we look at the exact process entailed in polyethylene recycling, it is worth considering some facts regarding the eco-footprint of this product. Most people will come into contact with HDPE every day. After all, this strong plastic is used to make everything from shampoo bottles to drink containers. Since this material had a lot of different uses, it means that there is a relatively large environmental impact when it comes to HDPE plastic. However, there are a lot of things that can be done to ensure that HDPE is recycled correctly to reduce this impact, and that is exactly what we at Plastic Expert are here to assist with.

Let’s take a look at some of the key environmental facts about this type of plastic:

  • Aliases – This plastic has a number of different names. It is referred to as HDPE as well as high-density polyethylene. It is also called plastic #2. 
  • Pollution – Like all other plastics, there is a high amount of air pollution produced when manufacturing HDPE. This includes the likes of sulphur oxides, particulate matter, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, non-methane hydrocarbons, and carbon dioxide. It is also responsible for solid waste such as coal ash and other particles that occur due to burning fuel, as well as water pollution, like iron, suspended solids, dissolved solids, chromium, and ammonia. Therefore, as you can see, the environmental impact is very big when it comes to this type of plastic, which is why HDPE recycling is so important.  
  • Recycling rates – The recycling rates do not make good reading when it comes to these sorts of plastics. It is believed that roughly only 6.8% of plastics, in general, are recycled. When it comes to HDPE, 12% of all plastic bags are recycled and 28% of water bottles and milk jugs are recycled.
  • Landfill space – If someone was to recycle one HDPE plastic bottle out of ten, this would mean 200 million pounds of plastic would be saved from taking up landfill space. Moreover, because HDPE tends to be lightweight in nature, this means that it tends to blow away from landfill sites. This means it can end up in natural landscapes, from the oceans to the forests, and this is where it creates an unsightly mess and can harm the environment.
  • Decomposition – It can take up to 1,000 years for the average plastic bag to dissolve into the environment. When you consider the fact that four million plastic bags are wasted by humans around the world every year, you see why this is a real problem, and why recycling this material correctly is imperative.
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Baled wheelie bins

Recycling HDPE into new products

Using HDPE plastic to make new products is the preferred approach. It saves resources, water, energy, and landfill space, as well as reducing pollution. Here are some of the products that can be made through HDPE recycling:

  • Recycling bins
  • Plastic lumber – used for playgrounds, picnic tables, and outdoor patios
  • Pipes
  • Non-food bottles, for example, anti-freeze bottles, as well as bottles for motor oil, laundry cleaners, cleaning products, conditioner, and shampoo
  • Hardscape materials, flower pots, and gardening tools
  • Floor tiles
  • Sheeting and film plastic
  • Crates

The HDPE Recycling Process

The HDPE Recycling process starts with collection. One challenge for storing HDPE is that often it is contaminated, so the clean and dirty HDPE need to be kept separate, as they are recycled differently and have different market values. Contaminated HDPE must go through a rigorous cleaning process before being recycled, to make sure that the material quality is processed at a high level. Common recycling machinery can process HDPE bottles, but HDPE film must go through a different process, as it is liable to get caught up in the teeth of machines.

HDPE film recycling machinery chews the plastic in small pieces that are then formed into pellets. The pellets can be turned into a variety of things, and are combined with a percentage of virgin HDPE to improve the strength and reliability. The pellets are blown using a variety of machinery and techniques to achieve different results. Recycled HDPE is often used to make things like piping, plastic lumber, recycling bins, and rope. Recycled HDPE will often be a dark colour, such as brown or black because it is easy to dye a clear plastic black than the other way around.

Plastic Recycling Bales
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Machinery used in the HDPE plastic recycling process

The HDPE Recycling process is vastly improved by the availability of high-quality recycling machinery, which allows businesses of any size to tackle their waste. The potential for profit, the ease and the increase in understanding, is helping recycling to accelerate and avoid landfill. Machines come in a variety of sizes, depending on the waste needs of the business. Some businesses will have more HDPE to separate from their waste stream than others, so a larger machine may be beneficial. The machines create bales of HDPE in different sizes, and the different sizes are worth different amounts. Quite often, recycling businesses like to deal with ‘mill sized’ bales, as they are the ideal size.

HDPE Recycling for your business

Does your company have HDPE plastic for recycling? Contact one of our team today and find out how we can help your company reduce costs and recycle plastic ethically and safely.

We at Plastic Expert can help you and guide you through your business recycling needs and make the process as easy, flexible and efficient as possible.

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