Plastic is one of the biggest threats to our planet but it seems a lot of people still aren’t aware of the plastics that can be recycled.
Fortunately, almost all local authorities offer plastic recycling collection as part of your household recycling or at local recycling centres – including the areas SunSkips serves (Suffolk, Norfolk and East Cambridgeshire) – and they can provide you with a handy list of the plastics they accept.
But why are some plastics recyclable while others are not? Which plastics can usually go in the container to be collected? And does it matter if you clean out plastic packaging or not?
Before we break down the different types of plastics that can be recycled, let’s first understand why we need to recycle plastic in the first place.
According to WRAP (Waste and Resources Action Programme, a registered British charity), 79% of all plastic ever produced is still in the environment. And only 50% of plastic in the UK is recycled.
Plastic packaging finds its way into our oceans, countryside and is a regular contributor to street litter.
A lot of energy goes into the production of plastic, so we need to dramatically reduce the amount we use to save burning fossil fuels. Recycling plastic actually requires less energy than creating new plastic.
Ultimately, alternative types of packaging are going to be the solution so we don’t have to deal with all the plastic in the first place.
So because of how important recycling currently is to protecting the environment, it’s important to know how to sort your plastics properly.
Recycling plastic is becoming increasingly complex for the average household, especially as different local authorities accept different types of plastics.
A lot of people will put all types of plastics in the recycling container without considering that not all plastic can actually be recycled.
Typical household plastic packaging should have a label that says whether or not it can be recycled and also a label telling you which type of plastic it is.
Here’s a breakdown of what’s what:
Water bottles and plastic trays are made of polyethylene terephthalate (PET), which can almost always be collected curbside. Similarly, milk cartons and yoghurt pots – made from high-density polyethylene (HDPE) – are one of the easier to recycle plastics.
Polypropylene (PP), which is what margarine tubs and ready-meal trays are made of, is also fairly simple to recycle. But things get a little more complicated from here…
Plastic bags and shrink wrap (like what some magazines are packaged in) are made from low-density polyethylene (LDPE). It’s not very easy to recycle, so it’s better to reuse carrier bags where possible (or get a long-life bag and do away with them altogether). Some supermarkets have plastic bag recycling, so if you really need to get rid of some, that’s where to take them.
Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) is the plastic used for cling film, blister packaging (like what paracetamol comes in) and plastic garden furniture. This is actually not recyclable and shouldn’t be left out for the refuse collection.
The plastic used to make disposable cutlery is called polystyrene (PS) and it is one of the hardest plastics to recycle. It’s also used to make crisp packets and salad bags, so if you’ve been putting these things in the plastic recycling bin, it’s actually more than likely going straight to landfill.
Other plastics like thermoset plastics (which contain polymers that form irreversible chemical bonds) and bioplastics can’t be recycled either. Non-biodegradable is the only plastic that can be recycled, and contrary to popular belief, bio-based plastic isn’t biodegradable.
The only way to know for sure which plastics are recyclable in your area is directly from your local authority. This information can usually be found on your council’s website, like Suffolk Recycles.
Because there are many types of plastic that cannot be recycled, it’s important to look into other ways to use it rather than send it to landfill.
One of the things we do at SunSkips to reduce plastic being sent to landfill is to redirect it to an SRF (solid refuse fuel) refining site.
The future of waste management will see technology playing a key role. New initiatives to track plastic waste using RFID chips are currently being tested, although not yet available for either public or private use.
Experts hope that by being able to track the lifecycle of plastic, it’ll be much easier to determine who is to blame for it ending up in the ocean or on the side of the road. The manufacturer or waste management company responsible can be easily identified and the biggest offenders will be caught and prosecuted.
For a waste management and skip hire company like SunSkips, the first step is to sort the plastic we receive into polymer types. This is something that can only be done by hand and it’s a laborious process for which our staff receives extensive training.
Part of our service at SunSkips is sorting both domestic and commercial waste at our site, which saves our customers time and ensures every last piece of recyclable material is salvaged.
If, however, commercial clients are able to send us plastic in a single stream (only one type of plastic waste in the container), then we are able to offer discounted rates as the process to get it to the recycling plant is far simpler.
We then send it to a processing plant for it to be shredded, washed, melted and pelletised before it can be reused in new products or packaging.
New plastic recycling methods such as chemical recycling, which changes the structure of the plastic, are being employed to recycle even more types of plastic.
But the UK doesn’t currently have a strong infrastructure for recycling plastic. In fact, some of the plastic recycling generated by the UK is shipped overseas to be recycled because the domestic infrastructure isn’t capable of managing 100% of the demand yet.
Mat Stewart, SunSkips managing director, is keen to adopt new technologies to help rid the country of plastic that’s filling up landfills and natural areas.
He said, “Recycling and reusing plastic is more important now than ever before.
“But what we really need is to move towards a circular economy where we never need to throw away non-biodegradable packaging – and we need the infrastructure in the UK to make that happen.”
Typically, plastics that can be recycled will find their way into carrier bags and new drink bottles, but there are a lot of other surprising uses for it.
Recycled plastic can be turned into underground drainage systems, car bumpers, wheelie bins, and even polyester fabric for clothes.
Childrens’ playground equipment, photo frames and park benches are also all products of recycled plastic.
But because plastic can be so hard to recycle, reusing or not using disposable plastic at all is the best way to keep it from polluting the environment.
SunSkips is dedicated to sorting through and recycling as much plastic for both our domestic and commercial clients. Need some help with your plastic waste? Give us a call or book a skip today!