What types of plastics can be recycled?

What is recyclable plastic?  Don’t we all find recycling plastics a complete minefield?  Despite Local Authorities efforts in making recycling slightly easier to comprehend by describing each recyclable item in detail, many of us still find ourselves confused. With the smallest change in packaging, changing the recycling rules entirely, we often find ourselves googling “can I recycle…” again and again. 

Plastic is one of the most popular and useful materials of modern times. As citizens we now use about 20 times more plastic than we did 50 years ago! It's popularity and widespread use is why handling it responsibly and correctly once it becomes waste is so vitally important to protecting our planet for future generations. The highly popular, versatile material is used in mass throughout the world, and is single handily causing extreme build-up and damage to the environment. By optimising the lifespan of plastics by reusing and recycling items as many times as possible, for example, recycling plastic bottles, we can reduce this damage significantly. 

Through recycling plastic, it means we can conserve non-renewable fossil fuels, reduce the consumption of energy used in the production of new plastic, reduce the amount of solid waste going to landfill and reduce emission of gases like carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Exactly how does plastic affect the environment?

Plastic sticks around in the environment for a very long time, threatening wildlife and spreading toxins. Plastic debris is found absolutely everywhere, all around the world. A key concern for many people is the debris entering our oceans every year, in fact, there is more than eight million tonnes of rubbish entering into the oceans every year. With estimates that there will be more plastic than fish filling the water by 2050, this is plastic that will harm and even kill over 600 different species of fish and marine life.

Here are a few facts you might not have known about recycling plastic:

-Unfortunately, not all plastics are recyclable. Plastic bags and straws aren't recyclable. Even coffee cups have to be recycled with a specific machine.

-Plastic can have negative effects on people's health. It has been linked to disrupting hormonal growth and carcinogens. While it is used heavily in people's everyday lives, consumers should be wary of chemicals leaching into food or drink products.

-Oftentimes we just throw things away into the recycling bin with the full faith that they will be recycled just because the label says it's recyclable. But that’s not always the case.  There are 2 types of plastics: thermoset vs thermoplastics. Thermoplastics are plastics that can be re-melted and remoulded into new products, and therefore, recycled. However, thermoset plastics cannot no matter how much heat you apply, they cannot be remelted into new material and hence, non-recyclable.

-Any plastic material with food residues on the package cannot be recycled. In order for plastics to be transformed into recycled goods, they must be of decent quality. So, what to do? Remember, recycled materials (i.e. your trash) must compete with virgin materials in the market, so quality matters.

-Unfortunately, every time we recycle plastic it downgrades the quality. Plastic is simply just polymers, long chains of atoms. Which means every time plastic is recycled, the polymer chain grows shorter and shorter meaning its quality decreases. In fact, the same piece of plastic can only be recycled about 2-3 times before its quality decreases to the point where it can no longer be used.

-Additionally, each time plastic is recycled, additional virgin material is added to help “upgrade” its quality, so that the recycled product has a fighting chance in the market against new, durable and fresh goods. This means that when you read the label “recycled material,” think twice about what the word “recycled” actually means in that context.

It can be easy to think that your recycling efforts don’t make a difference, but in reality, recycling plastic packaging from around the home helps tremendously. Just because you may not see the impact, doesn’t mean it's not happening. If you have large amounts of waste to get rid of, call us at central junk to dispose of this waste responsibly.