1. What is recycling?
Recycling is the process of collecting and processing materials that would otherwise be thrown away as trash and turning them into new products. Recycling can benefit your community, the economy and the environment.
2. Is recycling truly beneficial for the environment?
- Recycling one ton of office paper can save the energy equivalent of consuming 322 gallons of gasoline.
- Recycling just one ton of aluminum cans conserves more than 152 million Btu, the equivalent of 1,024 gallons of gasoline or 21 barrels of oil consumed.
- Plastic bottles are the most recycled plastic product. Recycling just 10 plastic bottles saves enough energy to power a laptop for more than 25 hours.
3. How does recycling save energy?
When we make new products out of virgin materials, we expend energy to extract and process those materials. This includes burning fossil fuels. However, if we manufacture products using recycled materials, we reduce the need for virgin materials and save the energy required to extract and process them.
4. Which plastics can be recycled?
Every type of plastic can be recycled… technically. But the extent to which they are recycled depends upon economic and logistical factors. The most widely recycled plastics are the two used to make soft drinks bottles and milk bottles: PET and HDPE. As well as plastic packaging most durable plastic can also be recycled. Traditional recycling is known as ‘mechanical recycling’ which physically breakdowns the plastic but does not alter the chemical structure. There is also ‘chemical recycling’ whose application is relatively new which does alter the chemical structure of the plastic. This technology means mixed batches of all types of plastic can be recycled – even back into food-grade packaging.
5. How many times can you recycle plastic?
There is no simple answer to this. It depends on the type of plastic, how it is being recycled and what it is being recycled for. Polymers do slightly break down as they are recycled — but this minor degradation is easily countered by mixing in calculated amounts of ‘virgin’ (new) plastic.
6. Can you recycle plastic films?
The recycling of ‘post-commercial’ industrial and agricultural films is well established in the UK. Products made from recycled films include refuse sacks, damp-proof membranes, fencing and garden furniture. Collection of ‘post-consumer’ film is still developing, however, and currently few councils collect it. This currently refers to the very thin films that often seal food within a plastic tray, for example. Films are extremely resource efficient from a CO2 and material-use perspective and help to save countless tonnes of food from going to waste every year. Post-consumer film from packaging can, in fact, be recycled (all plastics can technically be recycled). Where film cannot be recycled through the mechanical recycling stream then Chemical recycling technologies are capable of converting mixed batches of all plastics — including plastic films — back into oil, which can then be converted back into plastic. However, the UK still has to develop its chemical recycling capacity and the technology still needs some investment and development to work on an industrial scale.
7. Identifying plastic for recycling
There is no mandatory need to mark plastic in a way that signifies what polymer it is. However, to aid recycling, larger parts and packaging should be marked with an appropriate identification code. The use of a coding system devised by the Plastics Industry Association as below. Moulded plastics items should be marked in accordance with ISO 11469:2016 where possible.
Water bottles, soft and fizzy drink bottles, pots, tubs, oven ready trays, jam jars
Chemical drums, jerricans, carboys, toys, picnic ware, household and kitchenware, cable insulation, carrier bags, food wrapping material.
Window frames, drainage pipe, water service pipe, medical devices, blood storage bags, cable and wire insulation, resilient flooring, roofing membranes, stationery, automotive interiors and seat coverings, fashion and footwear, packaging, cling film, credit cards, synthetic leather and other coated fabrics.
Low Density Polyethylene
Squeeze bottles, toys, carrier bags, high frequency insulation, chemical tank linings, heavy duty sacks, general packaging, gas and water pipes.
Buckets, crates, toys, medical components, washing machine drums, bottle caps, and battery cases.
Toys and novelties, rigid packaging, refrigerator trays and boxes, cosmetic packs and costume jewellery.