Plastic is inexpensive, yet durable and lightweight. That is why it is used abundantly in manufacturing. Each year, across the world, approximately 100 million tons of plastic is produced. However, when plastic is disposed of in landfills, it can take up to 1000 years to decompose. When burnt, plastic releases a highly toxic gas known as dioxin. Bearing these things in mind, the best option for dealing with plastic is reducing the amount we use in the first place. For the plastic waste we do produce, there is plastic recycling.
Plastic recycling is the process by which plastic is reprocessed to make new products. Plastic recycling reduces the amount of space that has to be used for landfills and helps to alleviate the problem of pollution.
Before the recycling process can begin, plastics must be sorted by category. There are 7 categories that all plastic products fall into. They are:
Polyethylene Terephthalate is one of the most common types of plastic used in consumer products. PET is used to make most water and pop containers. It is used in some packaging too. Reusing PET plastic increases the risk of bacterial growth and chemical leaching. For that reason, these products are intended for single use only after which they should be recycled.
High-Density Polyethylene is considered one of the safest forms of plastic. This is the stiff plastic used to make items such as detergent bottles, milk jugs and toys. It can also be used to create weather-resistant and durable products like waste bins, plastic tables and benches. These products are both reusable and recyclable.
Polyvinyl Chloride is soft and flexible. This is the type of plastic used for clear plastic food wrapping and cooking oil bottles. It is used to make toys for children and pets, sheathing material for computer cables, plastic pipes, garden hoses and window frames as well. Polyvinyl Chloride is not recyclable. Additionally, PVC contains many toxins which can be leached from products over time. You may repurpose some PVC products, as long as they are not being used for food application or by children.
Low-Density Polyethylene is used to make products like cling wrap, grocery bags, packaging for bread, and squeezable bottles. Products made using this type of plastic may be reused and recycled.
Polypropylene plastic is commonly used to make disposable diapers, buckets, plastic bottle caps, margarine containers, snack bags, straws and even rope. PP plastics may be recycled and can safely be reused.
Polystyrene is used to make Styrofoam cups, plates and take-out containers, and foam used to protect contents in shipping boxes. Polystyrene foam is also used for insulation in home construction. The chemicals found in this type of plastic have been linked to serious health issues when used for food applications. Polystyrene is not recyclable and should be avoided as much as possible.
This category of plastics may include products like baby bottles, water cooler bottles and car parts. The protocols for reuse and recycling are not standardized in this category, so it is best to avoid such plastic products.
After plastic products are sorted by category, they are sometimes further sorted by colour. They are then cut up into small pieces and chunks. These pieces are cleaned to remove any contaminants such as dirt, dust, paper from labels or other unwanted elements. Following cleaning, the plastic pieces are melted and compressed into small pellets. At this point, the pellets are now ready to be made into new products.
If you want to play your part in protecting the environment by implementing or improving your business’ recycling programme,today. We can help.
Learn more about how the Vancouver branch of global engineering firm GHD successfully sorts their waste and recycling streams with Growing City, and how they encourage best practices at the office.
Learn more about Zero Waste Canada with founder Jamie Kaminski.