Ask your average Joe to name the 10 most useful things stowed in his garage, and chances are a sheet of ordinary plastic tarp may end up on the list. These tough, lightweight, water-resistant plastic sheets serve a myriad of purposes -- lean-tos for camping, awnings, truck covers, dust sheets for painting and compost bin lining. As the cost and environmental toll of manufacturing tarps from virgin materials increases, a shift to recycled plastic tarps begins to look even more attractive.
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Uncompromised Product Quality
Tarpaulin made from recycled plastic is slightly cheaper than fresh products, as it allows the manufacturer to save on the cost of raw polythene or polypropylene. Tarp manufacturers use a blend of recycled and fresh plastic for their products, with up to 60 per cent reprocessed material. While a recycled tarp costs less, the most important physical qualities -- tensile strength and water resistance -- are comparable. For all practical purposes there is no significant difference between the two.
Reduced Energy and Raw Materials Consumption
Each customer who purchases a recycled plastic tarp helps reduce the global demand for new raw material and increases the demand for recycled products. This encourages manufacturers to shift their production lines to meet this demand, saving billions of dollars' worth of raw materials and energy. Making a product out of recycled plastic consumes only a third of the energy needed for making the same product out of fresh material. The petrochemical industry is an energy-intensive sector and a lower demand for fresh plastic spells out more energy available for distribution.
Reduced Greenhouse Gas Emissions
Another challenge of the petrochemical industry is its huge yearly contribution to greenhouse gas emissions. Plastic can be traced all the way back to crude oil or natural gas, and each stage -- crude oil extraction, preprocessing, all the way to tarp manufacturing -- releases more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Recycling cuts off a significant portion of this process chain, reducing the overall emissions produced.
Manufacturing products exclusively from virgin plastic leads to an increase of waste, as there would be less reason to keep unwanted plastic out of landfills. Plastics take up 22 per cent of the average landfill's volume, 16 per cent after compaction. While this may not seem like much, saving landfill space for truly nonrecyclable refuse remains the ideal. A ton of recycled plastic translates to roughly 7.4 cubic yards of landfill space. That ton of reprocessed plastic then goes on to become several sheets of very useful tarp, and more space is reserved for future waste.
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- "Smithsonian Magazine"; Summary of Five Major Myths About Garbage, and Why They're Wrong; William Rathje, et al.; July 1992