Is Just Recovering Plastic Before It Goes to the Landfill Good Enough?

It depends. The top goal is to make sure HDPE plastic materials are used more than once, the more times the better and to avoid, as much as possible, going to a landfill to never be used again. Or worse than going to a landfill, is the potential to contaminate the area around the landfill. With that said, let’s outline the benefits of recovery AND bottle-to-bottle recycling.

Let’s say we have made the commitment to recover plastic materials from going to the landfill. This could have been done by the diligence of the consumer sorting it out and dropping off at the recycling center or the waste management company collecting all recyclables at the curbside and then sorting into bales for delivery to the appropriate processing centers.

At the processing center, the plastic is usually broken down into flakes or pellets, depending on how the end-producer will convert the plastics. The processor, like Envision Plastics, can even sort by color to save on adding colorant in the next stage of plastics production.

For the purpose of this article, we will not include any discussion on any bio-plastics included in the mix, because those affect the durability and quality of the use for the plastic. Bio-plastics represent an insignificant portion of the recycling stream at this point.

Recycling For Durable Goods Uses
There are lots of durable goods uses for HDPE plastics, such as furniture, toys, “lumber”, etc. All great uses and promote re-using materials and saving energy from producing them from virgin materials. Energy savings can range from a little to a lot, depending on the percentage of recycled material used. These pieces will last a long time, if not forever, since HDPE plastics will not deteriorate. But, there is an even better path, one that makes sure the plastic does several loops before ever being “retired”.

Recycling Back to Being a Bottle
So, the first question, why is making it a bottle again better than using recovered HDPE plastic as a durable good?

As a bottle, there will typically be only one use of the container and then it needs to be “disposed” (despite a few people using them as flower vases and such). Each time a bottle is created from virgin plastic, it takes at least 70% more energy to produce it, then if recycled plastic was used. Each time it gets recycled, it uses less and less energy to produce the material, so that maybe we get to the point where all HDPE plastic bottles need no virgin plastic, because we keep using the existing supply.

The second reason is that with advanced technology available in production at our company (Envision Plastics), the next time it is used as a bottle, no new colorant is needed. We can sort the flakes into specific colors and the bottle producer now doesn’t have to add color (and spend that money on the colorant) to keep the same branded color they have always used.

Depending on whether any additives were used to change the properties of the end plastic, you could recycle the plastic several cycles and reduce the amount of virgin plastic produced, yet still have sufficient plastic to meet our needs, if the bottle-to-bottle method were followed.

We welcome any other topics you wish to see or your comments on our posts.

Need more information? Envision Plastics Vice President, Tamsin Ettefagh will be happy to discuss your comments or concerns in greater depth. Contact her at 336/342-4749 Ext 225.

4 thoughts on “Is Just Recovering Plastic Before It Goes to the Landfill Good Enough?

  1. I don’t usually reply to posts but I will in this case.
    my God, i thought you were going to chip in with some decisive insght at the end there, not leave it
    with ‘we leave it to you to decide’.

    • Thanks for your comment! We’re actually proposing solutions since the problem (plastics going into landfills) isn’t going to go away without positive steps to recover them and use them in their original format. Since plastic bottles are collected and recycled, let’s turn them back into plastic bottles, not less sustainable applications.

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