A recycling bin full of empty plastic bottles

If you’re an adult in America, you’ve probably heard about recycling your whole life. And you likely also use quite a few plastic materials on an everyday basis. But perhaps, even if you know how important recycling is, you aren’t sure exactly what plastic materials should be recycled or how exactly that process even works.

You’re not the only one. The world of plastic recycling can seem like a vast, confusing labyrinth with a web of myths and misconceptions around every corner. It’s important to understand the difference between what is real and what is a myth in the world of recycling. Here are a few common misconceptions that you should be aware of:

All Plastics are Easily Recyclable

Despite what you may have thought in the past, not all plastics are made equally in the eyes of the recycling plant. There are actually seven different types of plastic, each identified by a number tucked neatly inside the familiar triangular recycling symbols you see on packaging.

In theory, they’re all recyclable. But in reality, many recycling facilities only accept type 1 (PET) and type 2 (HDPE) plastics. These two are the most common and, conveniently, the easiest to recycle. Other types of plastic can be trickier to recycle and finding a facility that accepts them is significantly more difficult, but certainly not impossible.

Plastic Can Be Recycled Indefinitely

You may have come to believe, like many others that plastic can be recycled indefinitely, just like glass and metal. However, plastic recycling is not exactly the same as those two materials.

Think of plastic as a photocopy of a photocopy. Each time it’s recycled, the quality degrades a bit. That’s because the recycling process breaks it down into smaller pieces, which weakens the overall structure. After about 2-3 cycles, the plastic’s quality drops to the point where it can’t serve the same purpose. Meanwhile, material that’s added through the process is nearly impossible to separate.

On the bright side, plastic can still be reincarnated into other products, like textiles, outdoor furniture, or construction materials. These all give plastic a meaningful second life, a marked improvement on it ending up in a landfill.

Plastic Recycling is a Waste of Energy

Our next myth is one many people have stated for years now – the belief that plastic recycling is just an energy drain. This one’s a little bit right, but mostly wrong. Yes, recycling does use energy, the amount of energy used is less than it would take to produce new plastic from raw materials. Plus, by recycling, we decrease the demand for new plastic production, which works essentially as a double victory.

We Can’t Make a Difference

This is perhaps the most insidious myth listed here: the belief that we, as individuals, can’t make a difference. This is certainly a misconception, even if it is one believed by many. Every plastic bottle, takeout container, or shampoo bottle you recycle helps reduce the demand for new plastic.

If you’re wondering how exactly you can be a better plastic recycler, you can start by reading more articles such as this, sorting your plastics correctly, and supporting businesses that are committed to sustainable practices.

So, what can you do to be a better plastic recycler? Start with educating yourself (high five, you’re already doing it!), sort your plastics correctly, and support businesses that are committed to sustainable practices.

Here at Piper Plastics, we’re passionate about sustainability. We understand the vital role that recycling plays in our industry, and which is why we recycle all reject parts and expired raw materials. To learn more, read our environmental policy or contact us.  

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