The Ultimate Guide to Plastic Recycling

Plastic is among the most popular and important materials used in the modern world. However, its popularity is part of the huge problem and reason why plastics should be recycled. Instead of throwing them away polluting the land and our water bodies, we can optimize the lifespan of plastics by recycling and reusing them.

Plastic recycling refers to the process of recovering waste or scrap plastic and reprocessing it into useful product. Due to the fact that plastic is non-biodegradable, it is essential that it is recycled as part of the global efforts to reducing plastic and other solid waste in the environment.

Process of Plastic Recycling

The following is a step by step process of plastic recycling:

1. Collection

Plastics are available in a number of forms for example plastic containers, jars, bottles, plastic bags, packaging plastic, big industrial plastics just to mention but a few. Due to their nature and availability, there are plastic collection centres and some business people have ventured into plastic collecting business as a source of income. Tons and tons of scrap plastic are collected and sent to a collecting yard where they are then packed and transported to plastic processing plants. Unfortunately, not all countries have the capacity to recycle plastic. Very few developing countries can actually recycle plastic. This means that, plastic waste is still a major problem to some countries in the world.

2. Sorting

The actual plastic recycling process starts with sorting of the different plastic items by their resin content and color. This process is also done to ensure all contaminates are eliminated. There are specially designed machines that help in sorting of the plastics according to their resin content. Then the recycling mill sorts the scrap plastic by symbols at the bottom of the plastics.

3. Shredding

After sorting the plastics, the next step is to cut the plastics into tiny chunks or pieces. The plastic bottles and containers are then ground and cut into tiny pieces or flakes. The heavier and lighter plastic flakes are separated using a specially designed machine. The separation process helps in ensuring that the different plastics are not put together or mixed up in the final product. Remember that different plastics are used to make different items.

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4. Cleaning

After a complete separation, the flakes or chunks are then washed with detergents to remove the remaining contamination. Once the cleaning process is complete, the clean flakes are passed through specialized equipment that further separates the plastic resin types. The plastic flakes are then subjected to moderate heat to dry.

5. Melting

The dry flakes are melted down. They can be melted down and molded into a new shape or they are melted down and processed into granules. The melting process is done under regulated temperatures. There is specialized equipment designed to melt down plastic without destroying them.

6. Making of pellets

After the melting process, the plastic pieces are then compressed into tiny pellets known as nurdles. In this state, the plastic pellets are ready for reuse or be redesigned into new plastic products. It is important to point out that recycled plastic is hardly used to make identical plastic item or its previous form. It is in this pellet form that plastics are transported to plastic manufacturing companies to be redesigned and be used in making other useful plastic products.

What are the Common Recycled Plastics?

There are numerous and common types of recycled plastics as can be seen below:

  1. Polyethylene Terephthalate

This type of recycled plastic is tough, has excellent clarity, is strong and has barrier to moisture and gas. It is used in the manufacture of water, soft drinks, peanut butter and salad dressing bottles and jars.

  1. High Density Polyethylene

This recycled plastic is known for its excellent stiffness, resistance to moisture, strength, versatility, toughness and reduced permeability to gas. It is used in the manufacture of water, juice and milk bottles. It is also used to make retail and trash bags for households and business people.

  1. Polyvinyl Chloride
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Abbreviated as PVC, polyvinyl chloride has a number of applications. It is versatile, can be bended easily, it is tough and strong. This recycled plastic is commonly used in the manufacture of juice bottles, PVC piping and cling films.

  1. Low Density Polyethylene

This is the most common type of recycled plastic. It has exceptional ease of processing; it is strong, flexible, tough, and resistant to moisture and it’s easy to seal. This plastic is usually used in making frozen food bags, flexible container lids, freezable bottles just to mention but a few.

Advantages of Recycling Plastics

Plastics should be recycled because of a number of reasons as can be seen below:

  1. Provision of a Sustainable Source of Raw Materials

Recycling plastics provides a sustainable source of raw materials to the manufacturing industry. Once the plastics are recycled, they are sent to manufacturing industries to be redesigned and converted into new shapes and used in different appliances.

  1. Reduces Environmental Problems

Since plastics are non-biodegradable, they pose a high risk to the people and the environment as a whole. They can block sewer lines, drainages and other waterways leading to blockages and unwanted pileups. When plastics are eliminated through recycling, the environment looks clean and inhabitable.

  1. Reduces Landfill Problems

Recycling plastics minimizes the amount of plastic being taken to the ever diminishing landfill sites. Most countries have designated areas specifically meant for burying plastics. When they are recycled, these sites will receive little plastic garbage. The remaining areas can be used for other purposes instead of dumping plastics that do not rot. These areas can be used for agriculture or for human settlement. It should be understood that human population is growing each day and land is becoming a problem. Instead of misusing the land for garbage disposal it can be used for settlement and other important economic activities.

  1. Consumes Less Energy

Recycling of materials including plastics requires less energy as compared to making the plastic from scratch. This saves energy and that energy can be diverted to other important things in the economy. It is therefore important to encourage plastic recycling in the manufacturing industry as it will save the economy billions of money. The process of manufacturing plastic using natural raw materials is expensive and time consuming compared to the recycling process.

  1. Encourages a Sustainable Lifestyle among People
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Individuals who have ventured into plastic collection and recycling business will experience improved lifestyles as they will get their daily income from the business. This will in the long run improve the economy and boost the living standards of the people. So do not just sit there doing nothing, embrace plastic recycling activities and improve your economic standards.

In summary, any sort of effort aimed at saving the environment is very important and matters a lot. Since its inception during the environmental revolution in the late 1960s, plastic recycling is one of the most encouraged solid waste management programs in the world. Prior to the push to use of plastic containers by manufacturers, products were packaged in glass, metal and paper. Therefore, in order to keep our environment clean, reduce landfills, provide a sustainable supply of plastics to manufacturers, it is important to recycle plastics.



Image credit: Hans
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