LDPE stands for low-density polyethylene, which is a thermoplastic that is created from the monomer ethylene. This type of plastic is often utilized in film applications because it is relatively transparent, as well as being flexible and tough. It is also used to produce some flexible bottles and lids, as well as being used in some cable and wire applications. Below, we are going to explain everything you need to know about polyethylene recycling and the LDPE recycling process.
Low Density or High Density
Polyethylene is usually manufactured in one of two ways; Low Density or High Density. Other than the scientific differences in their makeup, the most noticeable difference is their strength and weight. We will look specifically at Low-Density Polyethylene Film, something that can be commonly found in homes in the form of cling film.
Cling film was not always made from LDPE, in fact, research shows that previous plastics used for covering food contained leaking chemicals and deemed unsafe to use. LDPE film is also used for agricultural purposes, such as keeping strawberries, mushrooms, and tomatoes fresh. LDPE is thinner than HDPE, but sometimes they are used for similar purposes, like in warehouses, for wrapping pallets. Because of how robust the film is, and how transparent, it has become an ideal option for many purposes in industrial applications.
Where will you find this type of plastic in the home?
You will find low-density polyethylene in a number of different items around the home. This can include:
- Wire coverings
- Shrink wrap
- Ice cream lids
- Food container lids
- Flexible food containers
- Coatings in paper coffee cups and paper milk cartons
- Clear plastic bags – frozen food bags, bin liners, household garbage, produce, bakery goods, and dry cleaning
What are the pros and cons of LDPE?
There are many benefits and drawbacks associated with this type of plastic, as is the case for all plastics on the market today.
Some of the main benefits of LDPE are:
- Impact strength
- Chemical resistance
- Low specific gravity
Some of the main drawbacks of LDPE are:
- High coefficient of thermal expansion
- Poor heat resistance
- Very low stiffness and strength
While this may not be the most popular type of plastic for household supplies and food containers, LDPE is present in the home in the form of plastic bags that we use for frozen foods and such like. In the UK, LDPE is the most common form of plastic utilized by manufacturers at 19.3%. Although these plastic bags disintegrate at a quicker rate than plastic bags made from HDPE, they still cause a threat to the environment and recycling it effectively is imperative.
Basics regarding LDPE recycling
LDPE can be recycled, however, the way this is done, and the complexities faced depends on the nature of the plastic. For example, flexible products are more difficult to recycle, especially as they tend to be contaminated by the item they are packaging. The more rigid form of LDPE is easier to recycle and it can often be collected and recycled by curbside recycling programs. You will be able to tell whether something is LDPE plastic or not because the number ‘4’ will be printed on it. Nevertheless, you do need to check with your Local Authority to make certain that it can be recycled within your location in the UK.
What can recycled-LDPE plastic be made into?
This sort of plastic can be made into a number of different products and uses through polyethylene recycling. Here are some examples to give you a better understanding:
- Shipping envelopes
- Plastic lumber
- Rubbish bin liners
- Film plastic
- Rubbish bins and compost bins
The LDPE recycling process and its challenges
Let’s take a look at the process involved when it comes to polyethylene recycling, as well as highlighting some of the different challenges faced.
First, the film is collected, often from warehouses or farms, and then it is taken to a recycling facility. One of the great challenges of recycling LDPE film is that because of its uses in agriculture, it is often contaminated, and must go through a proper cleaning and sorting process before it can be recycled. This can become time, energy and financially inefficient.
Once clean, the other challenge comes for the recycling machines. A general recycling machine would get LDPE film stuck in its teeth, causing damage to the machine and creating problems. On the other hand, special LDPE recycling machines can chew up the plastic into small pieces and then form them into pellets.
These pellets can be turned into a variety of things and are often mixed with a bit of virgin LDPE to improve their strength and reliability. Black bin bags, black agricultural film, or irrigation pipe are all likely to be made from recycled LDPE. Commonly recycled LDPE will be black because, with recycling plastics, it is easy to turn a clear plastic black, but impossible to turn a black plastic clear.
Processing LDPE is among the easiest of the plastics, with the potential for injection moulding, rotational moulding, film blowing and blow moulding. It can be made anti-slip, anti-static, antibacterial and flame retardant. With all this ease and potential, LDPE recycling is a growing industry in the UK but the greatest challenge remains trying to make the plastic clean and decontaminated in an efficient way.
LDPE Recycling for your business
Does your company have LDPE 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.