Over the last century, plastic has gone from a miracle material which solved many of life’s daily problems, to an environmental villain that is wreaking havoc on our planet. The man-made polymer is used for everything from packaging to the products themselves, and in recent years, we have seen the development of eco-friendly plastics. This material is an exciting development for sustainability and our planet, but unfortunately, it has to be used with some caution, especially when it comes to recycling equipment. These new sustainable plastics are not as simple to recycle as the traditional polymers, and there are some new rules everyone will need to learn.
What Are Eco-Friendly Plastics?
Plastic became a mainstream material back in the 1950s, and since then, the world has produced billions of metric tons of the stuff. One of the properties everyone loved so much about plastic was that it doesn’t break down, which means the majority of the plastic that was created in the 1950s is still on our planet today. Consumers are becoming a lot more conscious about the impact plastic has on the environment, and more people than ever before are throwing their old plastic into recycling machines.
In recent years, eco-friendly plastics have been developed as an alternative to the damaging polymers we know so well. Eco-friendly plastics are engineered polymers which have been designed to be recycled or break down over time. Eco-friendly plastics can be split into three categories:
- Bioplastics: These are polymers created using renewable resources and they can break down naturally over time. They are made from starch-based materials from potatoes or corn, although there are new, innovative options made from things like seaweed.
- Biodegradable Plastics: This class of plastics are made using partially or completely non-renewable petroleum. It contains chemical additives which result in the plastic decomposing in the presence of oxygen, light, moisture and heat.
- Recycled Plastics: These are developed using post-consumer plastics which have gone through recycling equipment and created into something new. This plastic is not considered biodegradable, but it does keep plastic out of landfill by using it for new products.
Can Eco-Friendly Plastics Go In Recycling Machines?
Traditional plastic is widely recycled and there are plenty of opportunities for both consumers and businesses to recycle their plastic waste. While the rise in eco-friendly plastics is great for the planet, it does bring some issues when it comes to recycling. Most eco-friendly polymers can’t be placed in the same recycling equipment as traditional plastics. They can actually contaminate the rest of the plastic being sent for recycling and could cause the total lot to go to landfill.
Bioplastics and biodegradable plastics must be sent to composting centres or chemical recycling plants where they can be properly broken down, and this is known as end-of-life recycling. The problem is that most eco-friendly plastics look the same as traditional plastics, making it difficult to know which can go into recycling machinery and which can’t. It is important to get into the habit of reading labels carefully to identify what can and can’t be recycled. You can also look for waste management companies who are able to assist with multi-stream recycling.
For more information on plastics and recycling machinery, speak with our experts.