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Industrial Plastic Containers - A Recycling Challenge

December 09, 2012 at 12:46 PM

We're all starting to get used to the practice of chucking a high proportion of our domestic plastic containers and bottles in the wheelie bin rather than our main household bin, and most of us are thankful for the extra space in the main bin. Its easy to forget how many bin liners we used to go through in the average week and take this for granted. But, plastic isn't actually that easy to recycle. And when the items are large industrial plastic containers, made from rigid material, it can be trickier still.

If you compare plastic to other common materials such as glass or metal, plastic polymers need to go through a much longer process in order to be recycled. This process involves heat treatment, thermal depolymerisation and monomer recycling.

One of the main problems, is that plastic is very hard to mix because of its high molecular weight. Put very simply, this means a lot of energy is involved in mixing it, compared to other materials. Just heating it up isn't enough and so plastics that need recycling have to be of a very similar composition to mix well.

When you melt together various types of plastics, they usually separate, a bit like oil and water does, and then set as separate. These end materials are weak, and only use in certain applications.

If this wasn't difficult enough to overcome, there are further barriers to recycling. One being that most plastics contain additives such as dye or a filler. Plastic is usually too viscous to easily remove fillers and any of the simple dye removing processes would damage the material. This is the reason that milk bottles and similar plastic containers as well as plastic bags are widely recycled is that they don't tend to use these additives.

Another issue is that the smaller plastic objects don't feature the recycling triangle symbol and number - ever seen one on a plastic fork?

But things are improving. A recent news report highlighted that even Guernsey has started its own plastic recycling process,  trialling last June.

So far they've managed to recycle over 40 tonnes and Guernsey residents have been able to recycle rigid plastic items like large plastic buckets, heavy plastic containers, kids' toys and plastic furniture etc
Once the objects have been sifted for stuff that can't be reused, they are shredded and then sent for reprocessing in Britain.
The only plastic containers that so far cant be recycled are the heavily contaminated ones like plastic paint pots, although many other industrial plastic containers have been no problem.

The Public Services Department are hoping that the success of the recycling program will continue and should increase by 20% this year.

Tags: Plastic container manufacturing plastic containers plastic industry news
Category: plastics news

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