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How Does Plastic Get Recycled?

Common citizens sorting their trash for recycling are recycling more and more plastic every day. Plastic bottles and containers are collected at kerbside with other items made of glass and paper. Corporations that use plastic in their normal operations set aside plastic items for recycling like ink cartridges, plastic buckets, and packaging peanuts, to name a few. Reverse vending machines have been developed that will accept plastic bottles for a refund. Mass collection processes happen every day all over the world as people become more aware of the importance of recycling, especially a non-biodegradable substance like plastic.

Collection

Common citizens sorting their trash for recycling are recycling more and more plastic every day. Plastic bottles and containers are collected at kerbside with other items made of glass and paper. Corporations that use plastic in their normal operations set aside plastic items for recycling like ink cartridges, plastic buckets, and packaging peanuts, to name a few. Reverse vending machines have been developed that will accept plastic bottles for a refund. Mass collection processes happen every day all over the world as people become more aware of the importance of recycling, especially a non-biodegradable substance like plastic.

Sorting

Currently plastics must be sorted into seven different groups before they can be recycled as they are not the same substance, even though they are all called plastics. If they were melted together, they would not blend as they are made of different substances. PET containers or designated by a #1, are normal clear water or drink bottles; #2's HDPE are milk jugs and trash bags. Each plastic item should have a number on it to identify it for sorting.

Grinding

Once the plastics are sorted, they get ground or shredded by large machines. This process is difficult as the plastic is not easily cut and is actually an abrasive to the cutting blades. They are often dulled quickly and have to be changed several times in a day.

Washing

The plastic shreds have to go through a washing process that can become quite complicated as there are contaminates like glue from labels and dirt and grease from food that can change the end product if it is not removed. Special detergents and rinses are used to prepare the plastics for the next step.

Drying

Special machines are designed to dry plastic shreds before they are pelletised. Most use centrifugal spin cycles to manually lower the moisture content. Care is taken not to let stored shreds collect humidity by keeping the storage area very dry.

Pelleticizing

Each of the different kinds of plastic shreds is treated a little differently and some are almost impossible to recycle in this process. The ones that have gone through the shredding process are then fed into machines that use pressure and heat to compress the plastics into a solid that is then extruded into pellets.

Reintroduction into Manufacturing

The pellets are then sold on the market to manufacturers who use them for a growing number of applications. The #1s are made into fibres and carpets; #2s are formed into floor tiles, outdoor lumber, and laundry bottles; #3s go into mats and flooring while #4s can't be used in this process. Customers can buy the pellets by the truckload, thereby bypassing the need to use oil to make the raw materials.

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About the Author

Maryland resident Heide Braley is a professional writer who contributes to a variety of websites. She has focused more than 10 years of research on botanical and garden articles and was awarded a membership to the Society of Professional Journalists. Braley has studied at Pennsylvania State University and Villanova University.