Plastics are the most common and most popular material in the packaging industry; this is due to the fact that they are inexpensive to produce and their desirable material properties including durability, flexibility, and its lightweight. However, the rise of plastic production poses serious threats to the environment through its manufacturing and even recycling processes.
Recycling: One of the main problems with recycling plastics is the fact that there are so many different kinds. They must be separated according to their type (ie. PET, HDPE, PVC, etc.) and there isn’t a systematic approach to doing so. Certain plastics that we use in our everyday life (such as yogurt containers or margarine containers) contain various types of plastic combinations making the process of recycling very energy intensive to breakdown. The cost of recycling these types of plastics often costs more in energy resources and labour than it does to originally produce.
A very basic guide of the recycling process of plastics:
1. Plastics are sorted depending on their type and colour
2. They are then washed and cut into smaller, easier to manage sizes
3. Once they are dry they are melted into a liquid where the impurities are filtered out
4. Lastly the plastics are squeezed into strands, where they are chopped into new pieces or spun into a thin fibre where they are now ready to be used for new items
Another important tidbit of information is the fact that more cities are expanding what they accept as recyclables. The city of Toronto recently added soft plastics (ie. milk, bread, frozen veggie, sandwich bags) to the list of plastics they want in your blue bin. This makes a huge difference as these plastics are now sent in to be recycled instead of ending up in a landfill where they will virtually never decompose. So be sure to keep up-to-date with what your city accepts when it comes to recyclables.
Because many resources are required in the recycling process, the most effective thing you can do to reduce the spread of plastics is to be aware of how much you are using, consume less and reuse plastics in creative ways.
-Blog post written by Aleisha Cerny and Devin Gamble, Co-coordinators for Common Energy’s Zero Waste team