• Nara Loca

How Many Time Plastic Can Be Recycled?

It’s a common misconception that most plastics can be recycled many times over. This belief can allow us to justify high rates of single-use plastics on the basis that they are recyclable and therefore do not end up as waste in landfill.

In practice, the majority of recycled plastics are only recycled once or twice before being finally disposed of in landfill or incineration. In their 2017 Science paper on the fate of global plastics, Geyer et al. (2017) write that “Recycling delays, rather than avoids, final disposal. It reduces future plastic waste generation only if it displaces primary plastic production; however, because of its counterfactual nature, this displacement is extremely difficult to establish.” The study estimates that of the plastic recycled to date, only 10 percent has been recycled more than once. Following this, they end up in the municipal waste stream.

The limits to repeated mechanical recycling occur because of thermal breakdown/destruction in processing (which can degrade the quality of material) and the mixing or contamination of plastic polymer types means secondary plastics can be of low economic or practical value. When plastics become products of lower quality following recycling, this is often termed ‘downcycling’. A 2016 report by the World Economic Forum, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, and McKinsey & Company, estimated that around 14 percent of plastic packaging globally is collected for recycling, however the costs of sorting and reprocessing mean that only 5 percent of material value is retained for use as further materials.

In recent years there has been promising progress in the development of polymer materials which can be chemically recycled back to their initial raw materials for the production of virgin plastic production. In a recent study, Zhu et al. (2018) successfully synthesised a plastic with mechanical properties similar to commercially available plastics, but with infinite recyclability through chemical recycling. Such methods are currently expensive and unfavourable in terms of energy inputs, but could provide a commercially-viable solution in the years to follow.

Check this article about the quality of recycled plastic https://www.naraloca.com/post/quality-of-recycled-plastic.

https://www.naraloca.com is a recycled plastic specialist that promotes the use of recycled PET flakes, recycled PET chips, recycled PP & HDPE granules to various plastic and polyester manufacturers.

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