Recycle and Reuse: Benefits of Plastic Recycling

As more people are becoming environmentally conscientious, ideas like recycle and reuse are becoming popular everyday concepts. Simple choices like recycling plastic bottles in collection bins have become second nature. A far cry from decades past, households have not one, but often two or more waste bins placed at the curbside for trash collection.

Used Plastic Bottles Get A New Purpose

But does it really make a difference if the trash is sorted into these bins? How much of my recycling really gets reused? This article can help answer some of the common questions people ask about recycling.

A destination and designation for recycled plastics

Where do the materials go after they are collected from curbside recycling bins? The items collected are taken to sorting centers where they are cleaned and sorted according to their resin type. The sorted plastics are then melted down into raw materials for re-manufacturing. The process is complicated, but the products that emerge are no different in quality for the consumers who buy them. Yet the difference to the environment can be tremendous.

Microdyne Plastics, Inc., an injection and blow molded plastics manufacturer in Southern California, can sometimes use these raw materials to remanufacture plastic products. However, this is only one way plastic manufacturing companies recylcle. When Microdyne manufactures many of its products, the process often leaves plastic waste behind. Microdyne offers these materials to buyers who make the recycled plastic available for remanufacturing of new products.

What happens to the products that do not make it to the recycling bin?

Despite the availability of collection bins that contribute to the simplicity of recycling, only a very small percentage of plastic waste is actually recycled.  According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, in 2012 the United States generated almost 32 million tons of plastics, yet only about 9% was collected for recycling. That means that around 91% of the plastics generated in the United States that year contributed to the environmental hazards associated with plastic filled landfills, polluted oceans and roadway trash piles.

On the other hand, imagine if you could transfer all of that compiled trash and make it available for local manufacturers who need recycled plastics to make new products?  The demand for reusable materials far exceeds the supply available for plastics manufacturers. Making recycling a habit is easy, yet a critical element in supporting the availability of these needed materials.

Environmental impacts to consider before throwing out your plastic products –

Plastics are found lying as waste on the roadsides, beaches, sidewalks, in parks, the ocean and waterways. It’s just about anywhere you look. Not only does plastic trash take away from the beauty of the environment, it can harm it too. A new report compiling the research of over 60 scientists investigates the negative impact of non recycled plastics.

The report, “Plastics, the Environment and Human Health,” named several hazards that result from plastic waste.

Some of the negative environmental and health impacts listed in the report include:

  • Plastic debris, laced with chemicals and often ingested by marine animals, can injure or poison wildlife.
  • Floating plastic waste, which can survive for thousands of years in water, serves as mini transportation devices for invasive species, disrupting habitats.
  • Plastic buried deep in landfills can leach harmful chemicals that spread into groundwater.
  • Around 4 percent of world oil production is used as a feedstock to make plastics, and a similar amount is consumed as energy in the process—a statistic that could be greatly reduced by recycling.

The breakdown of non-recycled plastics: materials that do not simply biodegrade—

Although it is easy to forget about the impact of trash on the environment once it gets collected on trash day, the truth is that plastics do not just “go away.” In fact, the life of most plastic trash is a very long one. According Richard Thompson, lead editor of “Plastics, the Environment and Human Health”  explains that,  “Plastics are very long-lived products that could potentially have service over decades, and yet our main use of these lightweight, inexpensive materials are as single-use items that will go to the garbage dump within a year, where they’ll persist for centuries.”

The report’s message is simple: the responsibility of recycling plastics falls upon both the industry and consumers alike. In regards to the long-life of plastics, everyday items like plastic bottles or packaging materials should be seen as raw materials and not waste.

A time for change: how the plastic industry is moving towards environmental responsibility

Plastics manufacturers can make new products, using recycled materials, through the implementation of green chemistry. Cutting energy use and switching to renewable resources when available are two of the principles of green chemistry. For example, every ton of plastic bottles recycled saves about 3.8 barrels of oil, cutting manufacturer consumption of natural resources for energy. New technologies aimed at leaving a zero impact on the environment are on the forefront of the industry’s goals, but the reuse of current materials is one current practice that both the industry and consumer can support.

Resources:

http://www.epa.gov/osw/conserve/materials/plastics.htm

http://www.environmentalhealthnews.org/ehs/news/dangers-of-plastic

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