The Process of Plastic Recycling and the Challenges Associated with it

The Process of Plastic Recycling and the Challenges Associated with it

Plastic is lightweight, easy to stock and transport, comes in an innumerable variety of textures and forms and can hold practically anything. Unfortunately, plastic is considerably more challenging to recycle than mediums like metal, compost or wood. Most plastic momentarily ends up in a garbage dump or incinerator. Despite encouragement of plastic recycling, plastic production has overtaken recycling by five times over the previous decade. Although amplified plastic recycling is a unique method to improve this problem, it has only restricted potential to decrease the overabundance of plastic waste. 

What is Plastic Recycling?
Plastic recycling denotes to the procedure of recuperating litter or plastic fragments and regenerating the commodities into beneficial products. This action is identified as plastic reprocessing. The main objective of this process is to decrease great levels of plastic contamination while placing a lesser amount of pressure on unused raw materials to create completely new plastic products. This method helps to protect resources and prevents plastics from ending up in landfills or unplanned destinations such as oceans. 

What Plastics Are Recyclable?
There are seven common kinds of plastics. Below listed are some usual products made out of plastic:

PS (Polystyrene) typically used for foam hot drink cups, meat trays etc. 

PP (Polypropylene) used for lunch boxes, bottles and thin wall containers like ice cream containers.

PVC (Plasticized Polyvinyl chloride or polyvinyl chloride) used for rigid plastics like shower curtains and pipes. 

PET (Polyethylene terephthalate)  used for beverage bottles, medicine jars and carpet fiber.

LDPE (Low-density polyethylene) used for garbage can liners and trash cans.

HDPE (High-density polyethylene) used for  milk containers , shampoo and conditioners. 

At the present time, only PET, PVC and HDPE plastic products can be re-processed. PS, PP, and LDPE are generally not reprocessed since these plastic items run the risk of blocking processing machinery if they are brought together along with bigger, heftier and more stiff recyclable plastics, which is why it’s crucial not to put them in plastic recycling baskets unless you know they are suitable.  

The Plastic Recycling Process
One of the easiest plastic recycling procedures includes; assembling, classifying, shredding, washing, liquefying, and pelletizing. However, the procedures differ based on the kind of plastic product.

Most plastic recycling amenities practice the following two-step procedure:

First Step: Sorting plastics mechanically or with a manual sort to ensure all the impurities are separated from the plastic waste stream. 

Second Step: Liquefying plastics by heating directly into a brand-new form or cutting into small pieces and then melting down before being finally processed into grains or particles. 

Challenges of the Plastic Recycling Process 
Resin Codes Alone Do Not Indicate that an Item can be Recycled  

Nearly all plastic products are engraved with a resin code — a small numeral encircled by the “chasing arrows” sign. This resin code is actually used by the plastic factory to specify the overall category of chemical mixture used to create the product. The resin codes were embraced by the Society of the Plastics Industry (SPI) in 1988 to offer an industry-wide level of attainment that would make it unchallenging to recognize and classify recyclable plastic. The SPI denotes on its website that, the code was not anticipated to be — nor was it ever advocated as — a promise to customers that a specified product bearing the code will be recognized to be valid for recycling in their society ("Plastic Packaging Resin Identification Codes", 2020). 

It is Not Easy to Sort the Thousands of Variations of Plastics 
Even though there are only seven resin codes, there are an excessive amount of different kinds of plastic. Different mixtures of colors and additives can be put in to the basic resin to create a preferred color, form and texture in the ultimate product. These differences in the production procedure lead to dissimilar melting points and other features within the same resin code. To be created into an additional product, plastic should be cautiously classified by type. Merging different kinds of plastic makes it purposeless for manufacturing (Chan, 2020). 

The machinery exists to recycle most types of plastic; however a deficiency in infrastructure precludes the most prevalent types of plastic from being recycled. For reprocessing to efficiently work, societies must have the capability to cost effectively gather and classify plastic, and companies must be ready to take on the material for processing. Plastic gathering is an extravagant expense because plastic bottles are lightweight yet so big, making it difficult to systematically collect substantial quantities of similar plastic. 

Plastic Doesn’t Close the Loop
Once plastic has been gathered and classified, it encounters a weak market. Simply gathering plastic does not signify that there will be a purchaser ready to pay for the raw commodity. More often than not, it is inexpensive and easier to produce plastic containers from new, nonrenewable commodities. Plastic resin has a restricted significance as a material since its value reduces each time it is reheated. Therefore, most plastic is only reprocessed once before it goes to a dumpsite. A more precise term used to describe plastic recycling would be “cascading”. Unlike glass or aluminum, plastic recycling does not “close the loop” since most postconsumer containers are not made into new plastic containers. As an alternative, milk jugs, soda cans and other bottles are changed into substandard items such as fleece jackets, carpets, toys or plastic lumber that can be used to make garden furniture like park benches. When we bring together and re-produce plastic, we are only detaining its disposal. The ultimate endpoint for all plastic is one of these: a dumpsite, where it doesn’t decay, or an incinerator, where it discharges dangerous elements when burned (Szaky, 2020). 

Some of the useful products made of recycled plastic include sustainable active wear (including tech jackets and tight-fitting stretch trousers), swimwear, tote bags and backpacks which are made from post-consumer plastic bottles; reusable cups made from plastic products; mats and rugs made from recycled polypropylene; and pet accessories such as collars made from reprocessed ocean plastics.

By Nathasha Hindurangala

Plastic Packaging Resin Identification Codes. (2020). Retrieved 8 November 2020, from

Chan, E. (2020). Top 5 Challenges in Plastics Recycling. Retrieved 8 November 2020, from

Szaky, T. (2020). The Many Challenges of Plastic Recycling. Retrieved 8 November 2020, from

Image Reference
Cover Photo : Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash