Upcycling hard-to-recycle plastic waste
As consumers, we see the plastics that form our packaging in a pristine state. But what happens after we throw them away? Packaging plastics have 3 fates: the incinerator, the landfill, or the ocean. Here's why. Seven types of plastics make up nearly all the plastic packaging around us: PET ♳, HDPE ♴, PVC ♵, LDPE ♶, PP ♷, PS ♸, and Other ♹. From speaking to many recycling plant operators, we've learned that only PET water bottles and HDPE milk jugs are domestically recycled. No other plastic products are uniform enough to be processed mechanically. Any differences in additives such as colorants and plasticizers contribute to the inconsistency. To make recycling even harder, discarded packaging is usually heavily contaminated. Food and grease are big show-stoppers for conventional mechanical recyclers, who sell to markets with strict quality standards that don't tolerate surface contamination. These factors send nearly all plastics placed in the trash bin to the landfill or the incinerator, even in developed countries. Plastics placed in the recycling bin go to the material recovery facility, where they're sorted and collected into 1,500-pound bales. Except for PET water bottles and HDPE milk jugs, these bales are sent to local landfill or exported to Southeast Asia, where they most often end up in a different landfill or the ocean.