WHAT HAPPENS TO PLASTIC? [ARTICLE]

Author: Monique Webb, EnviroPerks

We all know that Recycling is important but did you know that in relation to all plastic on the planet, only small amounts of plastic is recycled. But why? Well, because there are different types of plastics and each have their own chemical composition. Mixing these different or chemically non-compatible plastics can actually contaminate the recycled plastics. Furthermore, inks and glues from labels (such as a paper or plastic bottle label) can further contaminate plastic making it non-recyclable.

I know, you’re probably wondering, “Why should I even care about plastic contamination due to improper sorting?” The first and most important reason is the versatility of plastic. Plastic has become an essential ingredient to human life and that won’t be changing any time soon. So, with more plastic in our future, we have to find better ways to reduce the carbon footprint of plastic on the planet and avoid the harmful effects that plastic has on aviation, land and marine life.

Recycled plastics can be diverted from the waste stream, measured and managed to reduce pollution and thereby benefit the environment. Additionally, recycling creates jobs not only in the waste management industry but in all other industries that utilize recycled materials like the clothing and textile industry. Unfortunately, because of the different chemical compositions of plastic, it is the most difficult material to manage in the waste stream. Think about all of the plastic items you can find in your home, these items end up lost in the waste stream and end up in the land fill; bottles, plastic wrap, sandwich bags, candy wrappers, remote controls and even grocery bags. Recycling minimizes the amount of waste sent to landfills: specifically packaging and food containers made of… you guessed it, plastic!

What Happens to Plastic?

But what happens to the recycled plastic?

It’s pretty interested in fact! After recyclable plastic is collected, it’s taken to your local MRF (Materials Recovery Facility). From there, plastic is sorted manually and then bundled into plastic bales for storage until they can be further processes. When the time comes, the plastic bales are then broken apart and sorted (by humans not robots) by color and resin type. After sorting, all of the materials get ground up, or shredded into small flakes of plastic which are then separated by density or weight. The plastic flakes must then be thoroughly washed and decontaminated before being dried. These flakes are then melted down and made into plastic pellets for use in post consumer recycled products like outdoor decking materials, fencing, doors and windows, roof tiles, fiber and fabrics. Most post consumer plastics are normally used for specific products and are rarely used for food and beverage containers but the application of the little pellets are endless.