We live in a world that is changing at such a rapid pace, it can be difficult to keep track of at times. Every aspect of our lives, from the ways in which we communicate to our dependence on technology and our understanding of the natural environment, is shifting.
While many advancements are positive, allowing us to better understand ourselves and the earth we share, the rate at which we produce, consume and discard has reached an alarming point. As a global society, we produce 381 million tonnes of plastic waste annually. A figure that could double by 2034.
However, it is our understanding of our own environmental shortfallings that gives us the power to enact change and reverse some of the harm we have caused. One of these advancements comes in the form of plastic recycling, a process that enables the repurposing of old plastic products. Recycled plastics pose endless possibilities with regards to practical, aesthetic and sustainable products.
Here is our guide to the endless possibilities of recycled plastics.
Why Is Waste Recycling Important?
Recycling, in any form, is absolutely crucial in our global effort to reduce the amount of waste materials that pollute oceans and are thrown into landfill. Single use materials, especially plastics, are incredibly detrimental to our natural environment, producing vast quantities of greenhouse gases, and releasing harmful pollutants into water sources during their production.
By recycling already existing materials, we are able to cut down the need for extraction, refining and processing raw materials. These processes cause harm to the natural environment, pollute habitats and use precious resources. What’s more, recycling uses a significantly smaller amount of energy than the creation of virgin products, further reducing the carbon footprint of manufacturing industries.
Not only does recycling help the environment, it also holds many economic benefits. Recycling provides raw materials, creates jobs and encourages businesses to be forward thinking. By investing in recycling facilities, research and opportunity, governments are investing in a sustainable economy and future.
The Plastic Recycling Process
As we have developed a greater environmental consciousness and the importance of recycling becomes clearer, the processes we use have also been refined and adapted. Since the creation of the first plastic recycling plant in 1972, the process has been improved significantly, yet the principle remains close to its origins.
Understanding the basic method involved in the recycling and repurposing of plastic waste is important as it sheds light on the journey of used products and outlines the many environmental benefits.
The plastic recycling process begins with the collection of post-consumer waste from residential housing, businesses and organisations. Here in the UK, recyclable material collection is carried out by either local councils or private companies. The quantity of waste will often dictate whether or not a private or pre-arranged collection is required.
Alternatively, plastics can also be recycled at larger facilities. This means of disposal requires individuals to be proactive and take their waste to designated locations. Once plastic waste is collected, it’s taken to a plastic recycling facility.
The next step in the plastic recycling process takes place at the recycling plant. Here, collected plastics are sorted and separated by their type. Moreover, materials may also be separated according to other properties such as colour, thickness or previous use. This stage is crucial and commonly carried out by machines, yet it may require the assistance of workers at times to ensure accuracy and rectify any problems that arise.
After the plastics have been sorted, they are washed in order to remove impurities such as product labels, glue, food and dirt. This stage is incredibly important as any contaminants can render an entire batch of plastics useless.
It is worth noting that the risk of contamination or impurities is significantly reduced if the plastic waste is cleaned and labels removed before disposal and collection from the previous user.
The process is then continued as the washed plastics are loaded into shredders and broken down into little pieces. By shredding the plastics, it makes them much more manageable and allows them to be processed in the next stages.
Additionally, this stage enables plastic sorters to identify any further impurities , such as metals. These are then easily removed by magnets.
Following on from the shredding and granulation of the plastics, the pieces are then tested to determine their purity and quality. This begins by floating the plastics in water to calculate their density and is followed by a test for ‘air classification’ to understand their thickness.
Air classification tests are carried out via the use of a wind tunnel. Within the tunnel, thicker plastics will remain at the base, while thinner, lighter, plastics will float upwards.
Compounding & Extrusion
Once the plastics have undergone their identification and segregation, they are ready for the final stage of the recycling process, extruding and compounding. It is during this stage that the small pieces of plastic are melted and compounded to form pellets. These pellets are then used for the creation of new products.
This step is arguably the most exciting of all; it is here that the plastic begins the next stage of its journey.
Following on from the final stage of the recycling process are a wide range of possibilities and potential products. Recycled plastics have infinite uses in the modern world and, with new research and ideas occurring constantly, we are always finding new ways to incorporate recycled materials into our lives.
What’s more, plastics are by no means limited to products similar to their original form. As mentioned above, by melting old plastics into pellets, they are then able to be reformed into a whole range of new items. From clothes and bags to cutlery and furniture, here are a few of the many uses for recycled plastics.
Children’s Play Equipment
Of the many varied possibilities for recycled plastics, transforming them into children’s play equipment is definitely one of the most exciting and fun ideas. Recycled plastics can be made into strong, durable and enjoyable play equipment for children, schools and parks.
From jungle gyms and swing sets, to obstacle courses and slides, the options are vast. What’s more, creating play equipment from recycled materials ensures they will be used for years to come.
Next on our list of uses for recycled plastics is tableware. Whilst it may not be as exciting as a roundabout or swing set, transforming old plastics into plates, cups, mugs and cutlery is an incredibly practical use for the material.
Moreover, the possibilities for intricate designs and aesthetic sets of plates and saucers are endless, leaving room for endless experimentation and innovation. There is nothing to say that tableware can’t be recycled and look amazing. In fact, many designers and luxury brands are releasing sustainable ranges and recycled products.
Another of the many potential uses for recycled plastics is furniture. With an increased focus on sustainability and eco-consciousness, many high-end brands are focussing their efforts towards home furnishings made from recycled materials. Whilst upcycling old items has grown in popularity over the past few decades, we are frequently seeing more and more new furniture made from entirely recycled materials.
Moreover, here at Devon Contract Waste, we place an increased focus on our range of entirely recycled outdoor furniture. Our plastic garden furniture is made from waste collected across the South West of England. It is then repurposed at our Exeter site, creating a range of benches, tables and chairs.
A Sustainable Future With Devon Contract Waste
The benefits of recycling are undeniable, both for the sake of the environment and for the longevity of the economy. By actively recycling and reusing materials, each of us can play a part in reducing the vast quantity of plastic waste that finds itself in landfills every year. Subsequently, this protects habitats, preserves oceans and reduces the emission of greenhouse gases.
Here at Devon Contract Waste, we take pride in our work, doing everything we can to reduce the carbon footprint of the region and move towards a more sustainable future. From our waste management and commercial recycling services, to our range of recycled furniture and decking, we offer a number of services, all of which focus on sustainability and environmental awareness.
If you’re searching for a reliable, efficient and conscientious recycling centre, look no further. Get in touch with us today to discuss your requirements.