Recycling plastic gets mentioned a lot but not everyone is knowledgeable of the actual process itself. This article will explain what actually happens when we recycle plastics.
It is understandable that recycling can feel like a bit of a chore sometimes. Just like growing up, chores definitely meant something else than fun and playtime, but the importance became clear. It had to be done for the greater good.
Apart from being hugely important and necessary, recycling is also one of the most convenient ways to make a positive climate impact, especially from home. But do you know what actually happens during the recycling process?
The plastic recycling process involves different phases that each play an important part. Should you wish to tackle the infamous plastic waste problem, then here’s a good opportunity to become informed about how the process actually works.
Obviously, the first step is sorting out your waste. You know the drill, plastic goes in here, newspapers over there, and so forth. This is the start of the recycling process for plastics as well as all materials when consumers gather similar materials together in one pile. May it be a business, a public institution or your home, collecting the waste is crucial.
Public drop-off spot
Of course, many public collection points serve the same purpose as the garbage truck. These public collection points are also tremendously important as they offer more opportunities to recycle.
For example in Finland, a very popular method of material collection happens in our supermarkets and stores, where people take their beverage bottles and cans and receive a sum of money as payment.
2. Sorting and identification
By now, our plastics have arrived at the recycling facility and it’s time to see what’s what. First, the plastics will be divided into different categories based on attributes and qualities. The desired plastic types will be picked out from the steam one by one commonly based on their characteristics in near-infrared detection.
Heavy machinery for heavy work
One can only imagine the mountains of different recyclable materials that are being sorted and categorized at your local recycling facility. Luckily for the people working there, the categorizing is done with the help of heavy machinery. Obviously, it is beneficial to the process when every pile of plastic waste collected from public drops-offs consist solely of plastics without any glass, paper, or metal.
Now that every item is sorted and categorized, it’s time to clean them up. It goes without saying that washing is also an important step of the process due to the risk of impurities. Some impurities can ruin the quality of big batches of recycled plastics, some are less harmful. Nevertheless, none of the impurities will make the plastic better.
Scrub it away
When talking about impurities in plastics, it usually means a couple of things. The process demands clean plastics and that is why food residue, all kinds of dirt, and adhesives have to be washed.
It’s good to also remember that you can help this process at home by making sure that you are recycling clean plastics!
4. Shredding and pelletizing
After collecting, sorting, categorizing, and washing the recycled plastics, it’s shredding time! In this stage of the plastic recycling process, the plastic enters a shredder where it will be broken into many smaller pieces. A very important procedure before pelletizing, a stage where the small shredded pieces are melted and transformed into pellets.
The shredding modifies different sized plastic pieces to similar sizes. This makes it possible to use recycled plastics in manufacturing or making recycled plastic granulates or pellets. Reusability at its finest!
In unfortunate cases, one can still find hidden impurities in the shredding stage. For example, one such impurity is metal. Solid metals – even small particles – can damage plastic processing machinery in melting. That’s why it is highly important to avoid metal fractions in plastics. This once more highlights the importance of sorting your waste into the right bin.
5. The final stage: a new plastic product
At last, the process has achieved completion and particles of the shredded plastic are made into usable products for different manufacturers. Our recycled plastic can now begin its new purpose in life as something else than a beverage bottle or whatever the shape and size it used to be.
New plastic products such as toilet brushes, dish brushes, buckets, watering cans among other items made from recycled plastic enter the market. In a nutshell, this is the ultimate reason for recycling – do not waste your waste, recycle instead and make a stand against plastic pollution.