Known Facts About Plastic Recycling
Recycling is a complicated system dictated by market demand, price determinations, local regulations, the success of which is contingent upon everyone, from the product-designer, to the trash-thrower, to the waste collector, to the recycling factory worker.
Not All Plastics Recycleable
Plastic bags– Not recyclable.
Straws– Not recyclable.
Coffee Cups– you need a special machine; without it, no.
Keyboards– maybe, if you get it to the right person.
If there’s a demand in the market, then recyclers and companies will pay for your post-consumer recyclables.
But without a market demand, those recyclables are almost useless; placing them in the recycling bin won’t make a difference if you can’t make money off of them. If the demand isn’t there, or the quality of the materials post-use is incurably dirty, they end up in landfill or incinerators.
Not All Plastic is Equal
Plastics are classified into 7 categories.
What it doesn’t tell you:
HEALTH EFFECTS: plastic has been linked to disrupting hormonal growth and carcinogens. While its use is also associated with public hygiene and preventing bacteria contamination (many Taiwanese, for example, use plastic straws to drink everything from beer to milk out of fear of a contaminated supply chain), consumers should be wary of chemicals leaching into food or drink products.
Most experts agree that you should stay away from #3 PVC (often found in pipes) and #6 PS (Styrofoam, often used as food/drink containers).
HOW IT’S MADE: Did you know that most plastics originate from crude oil? Only plastics labeled PLA are made from the sugars in corn or other plant-starches like cassava.
RECYCLABILITY: Oftentimes we just throw things away into the recycling bin with the full faith that they will be recycled just because the label says its recyclable. But that’s not always the case.
Dirty Plastic is Not Recycleable
In order for plastics to be transformed into recycled goods, they must be of decent quality. Remember, recycled materials (i.e. your trash) must compete with virgin materials in the market, so quality matters.
In Taiwan, there are several groups of people who sort trash, remove food remnants from bento boxes, and then send the containers to the recycling factories (since the outside material is generally paper).
Some recycling factories then take these goods and wash them multiple times before they are cut, reheated and transformed.
But most of the time, a “dirty” recyclable thrown into a public trash/recycling bin doesn’t even have the chance to end up at the recycling factory; it’s determined useless (meaning either too troublesome, to clean, or not capable of generating income from) and lumped with all the other trash that ends up in landfill or the incinerator.
Recycling is Downgrading Its Quality
First, it’s important to know that plastics are simply polymers, long chains of atoms “arranged in repeating units often much longer than those found in nature.”
According to the Science History Institute, the “length of these chains, and the patterns in which they are arranged, are what make polymers strong, lightweight, and flexible. In other words, it’s what makes them so plastic.”
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. So when you read the label “recycled material,” think twice about what the word “recycled” actually means in that context.
Nara Loca Abadi 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. This company contributes in plastic recycling industry for a better earth.