Plastic products are ubiquitous in our society. From water bottles to medical equipment, many of the items we use daily are made up of plastic. When we finish using these items, we often throw them in the recycling bin, but what happens to them after doing this? Here we provide a step-by-step guide to how all of your plastic is recycled so that you can stay informed about where your plastic is going.
Which plastics are recyclable?
While the majority of plastics are recyclable, this isn’t always the case. There are many different types of plastics, and some can’t be recycled by your local town or city recycling center due to specific rules and regulations. These rules and regulations also vary by locality. The easiest way to tell if the plastics in your home are recyclable is to look for one of the seven recycling symbols.
Plastic recycling stages
The plastic recycling process includes several stages. While individual recycling facilities may have their own process, in general, the steps are as follows:
Step 1: Collection
Before a plastic item can be recycled, it first needs to be collected. This requires you to sort through your plastic items properly and toss them into your recycling bin. Your local government will then receive your recyclable items and transport them to the nearest recycling center.
Please Note: You may need to bring other types of plastic to curbside recycling programs or other waste management sites. Again, see which recycling symbols appear on your item before tossing it into the recycling bin.
Step 2: Sorting
Once the plastic items are at the recycling center, they are then sorted by make and type. Different types of plastic need to be processed in different ways, so this step is crucial to keep the center running smoothly and efficiently.
Step 3: Washing
The plastics that come into a recycling center are hardly ever clean. They usually contain bits of food, dirt, labels, and adhesives that must be removed before an item is recycled. If a recycling center does not wash these items correctly, it can compromise the future product’s structural integrity.
Step 4: Shredding
This is where the items are shredded or granulated into smaller particles. Chopping up the plastic into smaller bits will make it easier to process it into a new form.
Step 5: Identification and Classification
With the plastic shredded, it is time to determine their quality and class. The first test is for density—this is where the plastic particles are placed in a tank of water. Less dense particles will float, while those that are denser will sink. Next will be air classification, which is how thick or thin the particles are. They test for this by placing the particles in a small wind tunnel; thinner particles will float up, while thicker particles will stay down. Recycling centers may also test for melting points and color by collecting and analyzing samples from different batches.
Step 6: Compounding
The final step is where the plastic items are finally made into an entirely new product. Recycling centers will smash and melt the plastic particles together into plastic pellets. The pellets are then crafted into new plastic products.
At Piper Plastics, we are committed to manufacturing plastic products in an environmentally responsible way. That’s why we ensure that none of our materials find their way into the environment, and we actively recycle all reject parts and expired raw materials. To learn more about our work, you can read our environmental policy or contact us with any questions or concerns.