What You Need To Know About Plastic Recycling

As perhaps the most useful and popular of materials, today we are now using plastic 20 times more than we some 50 years ago. With all that plastic in circulation in every country of the world, it is imperative that we ensure that it is handled responsibly when it becomes a waste product or reaches the end of its useful life.

This obviously involves ensuring the plastic we dispose of is sent for recycling as many times as possible and in order to help to preserve our planet, this is something we must all try very hard to do.

To make this as easy as possible, 99% of the local authorities within the UK provide a collection facility for plastic containers and bottles or alternatively the have local household waste recycling points. Furthermore, 79% of local councils also collect rigid plastic items such as garden pots, trays and tubs which are usually required to be placed in the appropriate recycling bin.

So, what happens to all that plastic you so diligently send for recycling? Well, let’s take a look at the plastic recycling process in more detail.

Stage 1 – Given the amount of plastic that is sent for recycling, sorting generally involves an automated process at a large facility although some manual sorting is still required to remove any contaminants before the plastic then passes though the next five stages of the recycling process.  These are:

Stage 2 – Shredding 

Stage 3 – Washing

Stage 4 – Melting

Stage 5 – Pelletising

Stage 6 – The manufacture of new products

Why recycling plastic is important

Because plastic is not only so very versatile as well as being popular, it has literally thousands upon thousands of uses and this means making sure that the lifespan of all plastics is optimised is hugely important for our health and our planet. This means every effort must be made to ensure that plastic in all its forms is reused or recycled as many times as is possible. This will contribute to four really positive effects that will help to preserve our planet as well as its natural resources:

  • It will reduce the level of waste that ends up in landfill
  • It will reduce the emission of carbon dioxide and other harmful gases into the atmosphere thus contributing to mitigating the effects of climate change
  • It will reduce the amount of energy that would otherwise be required to produce new plastic
  • It will conserve the use of non-renewable fossil fuels such as oil

Recycling plastic not only offers all these great benefits, but it also helps to prevent plastic from ending up in our oceans where it harms aquatic life and birds and also the animals that come across it when it washes up on land.

The challenges of plastic recycling

We use plastic of so many types, obviously, there are not the facilities for it all to be recycled in the UK because this will require technology in recycling processes that we do not yet have in this country. For example, the plastic used to produce the flexible pouches that are becoming more popular cannot at the moment be recycled in this country so products made from plastic such as this unfortunately either still head for incineration or landfill unless it can be shipped abroad where there the appropriate recycling facilities are able to handle it.

The good news is that massive investments are being made in the UK to enable the recycling industry to cope with all the different plastics we use. This hopefully means that in the not too distant future we will have in place the appropriate technology to design a really efficient recycling system with sufficient facilities that are able to handle and recycle almost every type of plastic in the increasing volumes that are a fact of life today.

What can be made from recycled plastic?

So many items can be made from recycled plastic and when these come to the end of their useful life, the good thing is that they can then almost all be recycled again and again. Just take a look of some of the things we all use almost every day that are all made from recycled plastic:

  • Carrier bags
  • Refuse sacks
  • Flower pots
  • Watering cans
  • Water butts
  • Seed trays
  • Compost bins
  • Car bumpers
  • Crates
  • Pallets
  • Wheelie bins
  • Food caddies
  • Gutters
  • Drink bottles
  • Food trays
  • Damp-proof membrane 

A lot of plastic products will feature a symbol that will indicate what type of plastic has been used and how it should be recycled. It would be useful to make consumers more aware of this to encourage efficient recycling.

Plastic can be made from a bio-based material or a fossil-based resource but both are used to produce durable non-biodegradable plastic as well as plastic that can biodegrade or decompose. 

However, it is only plastic that is non-biodegradable that can enter the recycling process while compostable plastic can be sent to a large scale composting facility or it can be composted at home if the labelling indicates this is possible. Again, more needs to be done to help the general public understand how this can be achieved.

To further help to understand which plastics can be recycled at home, there is the On-Pack Recycling Label (OPRL) system which provides as to whether that specific plastic product can be recycled. Encouraging manufacturers and retailers to adopt this system will help everyone to become more aware of which type of plastic products can be recycled and which can’t.

Do you want to sell or buy recycled plastic? 

About two-thirds of all the plastic recycling companies in the UK belong to the British Plastics Federation Recycling Group so these 40 businesses are an important part of the entire country’s recycling ability. However, if you have some plastic recycled material that you wish to buy or sell then all you have to do is contact The Green Alchemist to find out which companies are local to you or who offer a nationwide collection service.