Why Recycling Plastic Is So Important
We all know we should recycle. But did you know recycling your plastic also saves energy? For example, recycling a single plastic bottle could conserve enough energy to light a 60 W light bulb for up to 6 hours.*
Recycling plastic helps save waste too as well as energy. Not only that, but plastic can be recycled into other things, a pair of jeans, for example, includes an average of 8 recycled plastic bottles. It’s easy to see why recycling can be so important.
What Do Plastic Recycle Symbols Mean?
To help you know what you can recycle, each plastic container or bottle has a symbol from 1-7. These symbols provide information on how toxic, biodegradable and safe the plastic can be. We have put together this simple guide to help you identify your everyday recyclable plastics. Make sure you check with your local authority regarding recycling your plastics and what is excepted.
PETE or PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate)
Plastic #1 is typically clear in appearance and used mainly in water bottles as well as salad dressing or peanut butter containers, often picked up by curbside collection. Considered a safe plastic, it can be recycled into polar fleece, furniture, carpets,tote bags, fibre among others.
HDPE (High Density Polyethylene)
Plastic #2 is typically opaque in appearance and used mainly in household containers like milk, juice bottles, yoghurt, butter and toiletry tubs. This can also be picked up from your curbside collection. Considered a safe plastic, it it is recycled into pens, picnic tables, fencing, timber, benches among others.
V or PVC (Vinyl)
Plastic #3 is typically used to make food wrap and packaging, detergent, cooking oil bottles, medical equipment and plumbing pipes. It is very rarely collected at curbside. Considered a not so safe plastic but it can be recycled into flooring, speed bumps, roadway gutters, panelling among others.
LDPE (Low Density Polyethylene)
Plastic #4 is typically found in most squeezable bottles, shopping bags, clothing, frozen foods, bread bags and some food wraps. Not many curbside collectors include this but more are starting to. Strongly considered a safe plastic, it can be recycled into bins, bin liners, floor tiles, panels, envelopes among others.
Plastic #5 is typically found in most ketchup, syrup and medicine bottles. It is usually picked up by curbside collectors. Strongly considered a safe plastic, it can be recycled into brooms, pallets, traffic light, car battery cases, bicycle racks among others.
Plastic #6 is typically found in compact disc cases, egg cartons, meat trays, disposable plates and cups. It is considered notoriously difficult to recycle and there are not any recycling programs that do. However, it can be recycled into egg cartons, vents, foam, insulation, among others.
Plastic #7 are all the other plastics that do not fit into the first 6, under this umbrella; sunglasses, ipod cases and nylon. These plastics are a mixed bag in terms of recycling. When it is possible to recycle these they are usually recycled into custom made products.
Landfill waste & our environment
Estimates put plastic consumption at 1.2 million tonnes in the UK alone. Only a third of this is actually recycled. Landfill sites (dumps or tips) used to bury and dispose of our waste are ever growing, making landfill space a big problem. Slow decomposition rates means many acres of land are being rendered useless because of the years needed to decompose all of the waste. Recycling can therefore make a huge difference to the environment and help reduce landfill waste sites.
Recycling our plastic glasses is easy
There are three reasons why plastic glasses are easy to recycle. One: they are not coloured - c olour added to plastic cannot be removed so it isn’t recyclable. Two: they are clean - unlike other plastics, like food packaging, they are relatively uncontaminated. Three: they are made from a single material - disposable plastic glasses are lumps of pure, food-grade plastic of a single type (usually either type 1, 5, or 6).
There are several different ways in which to dispose of goods in more environmentally friendly way than normal refuse collection which ends up in a landfill site.
Recycling is basically making new out of old. You can either 'up-cycle', which is making products of an equal or better grade that the original material, or 'down-cycle', where products are made back into a lower grade.
To recycle plastic, the product is sorted, shredded, washed, melted and then made into pellets. The pellets of plastic can then be remoulded into new products. Our RPET smoothie bottles are a good example of up-cycling, as they are made from recycled PET plastic. There are difficulties in recycling plastics though. Every type of plastic has a different molecular make up, and therefore would have to be recycled in a slightly different way, or made into a group 7 mixed plastic. ID's are put onto most plastics in order for the consumer to identify the product and sort it accordingly.
Paper is one of the easiest product to recycled. It is sorted and graded, pulped with water, screened and cleaned and then made into new paper products. Paper is an example of a material that is down-cycled. Each time it is pulped, it loses some of its integrity, so more and more new pulp needs to be added. Some products of paper recycling are newspaper, paperboard and tissue paper. It is a fast process, and can take approximately 7 days for office paper to become a newspaper.
Some types of paper a difficult or recycle, or are unable to be recycled. These include some coated paper, like normal waxed paper, and wrapping paper. Wrapping paper can sometime be mixed in with cardboard recycling, but as it is of such a low grade of paper to begin with, and often very dyed, it often cannot be recycled.
Composting is a process whereby organic matter is decomposed into compost. It needs five key elements in order for it to work properly:
Air- Air is needed to aerobic composting. Oxygen is needed for many of the bacteria and organisms, which are key to composting.
Moisture- Another key factor for living organisms. Moisture levels should be between 40-60%. Lower and the bacteria become dormant, higher and the water will use the oxygen needed and the organisms can suffocate.
Temperature- Warm temperatures are neded to keep the compost heap moist and a an optimum level for organisms and bacteria. 30-60 degrees C is ideal. Any higher or lower and rates of composting will reduce.
Microorganisms- Bacteria and Fungi. They are chemical decomposers as they change and breakdown the chemistry of organic waste.
Macroorganisms- Larger organisms including arthropods and insects. They digest and miz the organic matter into more manageable material for microorganisms.
All of our bagasse products and paper bio boxes can be composted in a domestic garden compost heap.
The combustion of organic matter. It converts the waste into ash, gases, particulates and heat, which can then in turn be used to generate power, It can reduce mass by around 85%, so while it doesnt replace landfills, it can significantly reduce the volume.
Traditional landfills are when waste is buried in the ground. This can cause many problems, including unpredictable explosions of methane and leachate (fluids from landfills containing toxins) getting into ground water and polluting it.
Bioreactor landfills involve reintroducing collected leachate and water to maintain moisture levels. This encourages composting within the site, which minimises harmful emissions and can help to decrease the volume of the site. Also, after a certain amount of decomposition, the land is safe enough to be reclaimed for reforestation or parks.