Plastic Recycling Facts

There has been a lot of recent publicity related to plastic waste in the environment, especially plastic waste in the ocean. Learn more about the facts of plastic recycling.

There has been a lot of recent publicity related to plastic waste in the environment, especially plastic waste in the ocean. This should be a concern for everyone and we should do more to get everyone to recycle. The current rates of recycling in the USA are very low and are most likely due to lack of curbside recycling in some communities, the cost to pay for recycling services, the hassle of storing the recycle products until they can be collected or disposed of or just plain laziness of people.

The plastics industry has been very active in recycling and in fact there are many companies that buy, sell and use recycled plastic. Many plastic compounders use recycled plastic as the main feedstock for their compounds.

Plastics for recycling can be divided into two main categories: post-industrial and post-consumer. Post-industrial recycle is the scrap that is generated during processing or conversion; that is, it is basically plant scrap. Post-consumer recycle is plastic that has been sold to consumers in some form, such as shampoo bottles, milk jugs, toys, packaging etc. and is now being recycled, often through direct curbside recycling. Most of the post-consumer recycle is high density polyethylene (HDPE), polyethylene terephthalate (PET) or polypropylene (PP). Post-industrial recycle could be almost any plastic material although polyethylene, polypropylene, nylon, ABS and polycarbonate are some of the more common types of plastics seen in post-industrial recycling.

Resin identification codes (RIC) are used to identify the type of plastic material used to produce a consumer product and to make it easier for recycling or reprocessing. However, having a RIC does not mean that a plastic is recyclable. It is simply used to identify the type of plastic used which could make it easier to identify and sort if the plastic material was to be recycled. There are seven common recycling codes used in the USA to identify various plastic materials, with two more recent additions. 

Other countries may use more, less or different recycling codes than what are used in the USA. For example, China has resin identification codes for 140 different types of plastics. There are also identification codes used for batteries, glass, metal, paper and organic materials.

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