Let’s talk about recycling

Recycling is and will be an essential part of solving the problem of plastic pollution, but recycling alone is not enough; In addition, we really know so little about how plastics are recycled; so we are going to inform ourselves about the subject.

Most plastics cannot be “recycled” in a perfect cycle; this means, for example, that a plastic bottle will not be “recycled” to obtain another bottle. They are rather “infracycled”, because the plastic that remains after processing it, is of a lower quality than the original one and that bottle will eventually become pillow stuffing or a polyester bag. We must also be aware that this process of “recycling” or “infracycling” requires considerable effort and high expenditure of energy, since you have to classify the plastic waste by type or even by color, then wash, crush and melt it to turn it into raw material again. I’ll tell you about the different types of plastics.

Did you know that there are 7 types of plastics? If you look in almost any plastic product, you will see on it a recycling sign (♻︎) with a number inside that indicates which type it belongs to. I­­’ll explain what the sign means in each type:

♳ Known as PET and is manufactured from terephthalate polyethylene. It is the most common of all plastics and one of the easiest to recycle; it is usually used to make bottles, take-out food containers or containers for foods such as mayonnaise. When PET is recycled, it is converted into polyester fabrics, pillow stuffing or bags.

♴ HDPE in English or PEAD in Spanish comes from high-density polyethylene. It is considered as one of the least hazardous to our health since it has a low risk of releasing toxins and polluting; it is used, among other things, for shampoo bottles, yogurt or laundry detergent containers. When recycled it can be converted into ball pens or part of playground equipment such as toboggans and swings.

♵ PVC is made with polyvinyl chloride. This is one of the most difficult to recycle; however, it is a very versatile material and can be used for many things like construction piping or bathroom curtains, because it is very durable and resistant. From its recycling process, items like Blister or bubble sheets to protect fragile things when wrapping or Road Bumps or strips for Traffic Speed Control can be obtained.

♶ LDPE comes from low-density polyethylene. It is among the ones considered less harmful to our health since its toxins are hardly released into the products contained in them. It is used to manufacture carpets to toothpaste containers. When recycled, many useful items can be made, for example, envelopes for sending documents or trash

♷ PP is manufactured from polypropylene. It is also considered one of the least harmful to our health; It is rigid and strong and is highly resistant to heat. It is frequently used for the manufacture of bottle caps, medicine containers or vehicle bumpers. It is not easy to recycle because it is often mixed with other components that hinder the process; when recycling is possible, articles like brooms, vases or garbage shovels are manufactured.

♸ PS comes from polystyrene. It is one of the most toxic to our health since it contains benzene, a known carcinogen; it is also one of the most difficult to recycle. Among its properties that stand out are its transparency and it’s easy to mould shape forms; with this plastic, take-away food containers, compact discs or disposable cutlery are manufactured. When it is recycled, it is used to make thermal insulation or packaging protectors.

♹ OTHERS. This last category includes all those thousands of plastics that do not fall into any of the above-mentioned categories; they are usually those that come from mixtures of various resins. In some cases you can read under the symbol the acronym PC, which indicates that it is a polycarbonate, which is highly resistant to temperature, its rigidity and is easily moldable; it is highly toxic because it contains bisphenol A (BPA), which is a carcinogenic substance. It is very difficult to recycle and because of this, not all recycling plants can process it. When it is recycled, it is used to make traffic signs or plastic wood for construction, among other things.

If we have understood all this well, we will realize that recycling is not an infinite process, that means, new plastic will always have to be made, When the process of recycling has ended for plastic, it is possible to get rid of it by incineration. This, however, releases toxic gases into the atmosphere which is harmful to the environment, polluting it once again.

Keep in mind that plastic you should Reject, and if you cannot, Reduce it, Reuse it or Recycle it. Ideally, in that order.