Following our first pLASTic blog, we thought it would be appropriate to dive back into the complicated world of plastic recycling after the abundance of great questions we received. Our first blog explained how plastics were created, why the use of plastics has exploded over the past 60 years, the difficulties with recycling plastics using our current technology, and a few ways to help you understand plastics in general. It’s true, out of the five acceptable items we can accept at Loraas Recycle, plastics are the most complicated material for anyone to understand how to recycle properly. We explained in the first blog that, “…there is no simple, “Plastics Recycling Rule”. Curbside recycling programs do accept most plastics numbered 1 thru 7. Plastics must be separated correctly into their numbered categories before they can be made into new products as different types of plastic are not compatible with one another.” Here we go again- pLASTic 2.
The question we received the most was, “Why do plastics need to be separated into different numbered categories when being recycled?” The answer is a complicated one so we have broken it down into two parts:
Quite simply, the number on the plastics indicates the resin identification code. For example, #1 plastics are Polyethylene terephthalate (PET or PETE) and are the most common thermoplastic polymer resin of the polyester family. This type of plastic can be made into pop bottles or fibers for clothing or rope. The #2 plastics are High-density polyethylene (HDPE) and are the strongest and most versatile within the #1 thru #7’s we’ve mentioned. HDPE #2 plastic can be made into many different products from milk jugs to plastic lumber to underground pipes. For a full list of #1 thru #7 plastic details, click here to visit our website and view the downloadable document.
As mentioned above, each plastic has a different chemical mixture. Meaning that when they are sent to manufacturers to be made into new products, the plastics will all have different melting points. For simplicity, this process is similar to a baking a cake. If the contents in the bowl are not mixed properly or you accidentally add the wrong ingredient, it will result in a foul-tasting cake or chunks of unmixed salt in your end masterpiece. To recycle plastic, secondary manufacturers will sort, shred, and wash the plastics before they are compacted and sent to their final destination to be made into a new product. These bales will be broken apart and placed into a melting bath. The melting bath can extract some contaminates, but not all. If there are too many different types of plastic, like #1 PET mixed into a #2 HDPE plastic melting-bath, the end result will have chunks of solidified plastics within the liquid plastic. When the plastics mixture is cooled in a mold, the solidified pieces will weaken the overall design or cause the end product to be categorized as low-quality.
Contamination of plastics can occur even in small quantities, like a #2 bottle cap or pump on top of a #1 pop or soap bottle. One cap may not cause an issue, but recycling facilities often see thousands coming through on a daily basis. Hence why most recycling sorting facilities will not accept items smaller than a playing card box and plastics without resin ID number codes. Small plastics are sent to landfills rather than in a mixture with larger plastics; ensuring the plastic will be made into new products by the purchasing manufacturers. By excluding small plastics, it saves the quality of the recycled plastics as some manufacturers can’t or won’t chance using recycled plastics. Why? If the recycled plastic is not 100% pure, it will be considered contaminated by the manufacturer as there is a greater potential for their product or packaging to break during transportation. Simply put, low-quality recycled plastic means decreased profits and shortened lifespans.
Looking for more help with understanding how to recycle plastics? Or tips on how to reduce? If you haven’t already, go read the first pLASTic blog. Still unsure about something? Feel free to comment or direct message on our social media pages @LoraasYXE.