What is Recycling?
Recycling is a complicated system determined by market demand, price determinations, local regulations. The success of recycling is dependent upon everyone, from the product-designer, to the consumer, to the waste collector, to the recycling factory worker.
As consumers, we play a much more critical role than we might imagine– depending on how we use our products and in what shape we throw them away, determines their value and quality post-use….
What is Plastic Recycling?
Some plastics are recyclable, while some plastics are not. The most common plastics that are recyclable are PET, HDPE and PP (marked #1, #3, and #5 respectively).
A plastic drink bottle for instance, is commonly made up of 3 types of plastics;
The bottle – PET
The label – PVC
The bottle cap – HDPE
Once enough of a material is collected, it is compressed into a 1,000 pound block, called a bale. We help this along by consolidating the PP material contact lens blisters, and minimising the time and energy needed for the sorting process.
It will then be sent to 3rd party companies. After which, buyers take the raw material to clean and process it, and turn the processed pellets, also called feedstock, into something new, such as clothing fibers, industrial fibers, food containers, etc.
This process saves way more energy than mining for virgin materials. Did you know, using 1 ton of recycled plastic, saves 16 barrels of oil?
In 2018, we generated a total of 949,300 tons of plastic waste, of which 40,700 tons, or just 4%, was recycled, according NEA reports. That’s down from 6% in 2017, and less than half the recycling rate from five years ago.
Why is this figure so low, despite calls from the government to urge us to recycle, and with many groups that actively raise awareness for this increasingly pressing issue?
Unlike in other countries, the government makes it “easier” for us to recycle, by allowing us to throw recycling waste in one blue bin, without having to take the necessary steps to separate the different materials.
The simple act of throwing something away into a large box marked with a recycling sign is enough to make some of us feel like we’ve done our part. We are also guilty of the concept of “wishcycling”, ie, putting something in the recycling bin, hoping it can be recycled.
Because of this “ease” and “convenience” in recycling, very often, plastics that reach the bin are already contaminated, either by food and drink residues, or are made up of a mixture of different kinds of plastics. This greatly complicates and affects the recycling and segregation process.
Small plastics such as contact lens blisters could also fall through the cracks in the system.
Most of the time, a “dirty” recyclable thrown into a public trash/recycling bin doesn’t even have the chance to end up at the recycling factory; it’s determined useless (meaning either too troublesome, to clean, or not capable of generating income from) and lumped with all the other trash that ends up in landfill or the incinerator.
Think about it. Recycled goods have to compete with new products in the market; who would buy something of lower quality?
That’s why we started Project2x2, to prevent this from happening to our contact lens plastic blisters; so that we can help to bridge the gap, and know that each of our individual efforts, no matter how small, will make a difference.
In all honesty, for many of us, plastics are still and will remain a part of our everyday lives out of necessity, and it’s hard to avoid it completely. But what we can do and have a say in, is where it ends up.