The Truth About Recycled Plastics

You have noticed that there has been an increase in “eco” branding across major brands with big emphasis on using 100% recycled plastic. That’s great however, it’s still plastic and it’s still not that great for the planet.

Let’s break it down (no pun intended) plastic is made up of long chain polymers or chains of atoms. Depending on how these are arranged it determines the strength and durability of the plastic.

To recycle this plastic these polymers are broken down with heat, or put simply, melted and reformed into a new plastic material. Now, this is where it gets tricky. As those plastic polymers are broken and reformed the plastic loses it’s quality. Sometimes plastic manufactures will add what they call “virgin” plastic to help increase the stability of the recycled plastic.

Since the plastic loses it’s integrity each time it’s recycled it means that plastic can only be recycled 2 to 3 times. So, you’re bottle may be made from recycled plastic but it’s still plastic with only a small life span of use but an eternal lifespan of existence in landfill or worse, our oceans.

This also makes you wonder, if I’m drinking or eating out of a container made from recycled plastic is it safe? That’s for another blog.

Let’s look at the process of recycled plastic. Let’s assume you’ve used a plastic container, cleaned it and popped into into the recycling bin. It gets taken to a processing plant where it’s sorted and graded. If you’ve done the right thing the item will be ready for recycling. Then it’s loaded onto a container ship, shipped to maybe Malaysia where it is processed further. The plastic plant uses plenty of energy to melt and remould the plastic piece you sent off for recycling.

Then the plant creates a new plastic bottle. Hooray! But then it needs to make it’s way all the back to Australia to be filled and packaged. So it’s then loaded back onto a container ship and sent all the way back to Australia. Once here it’s filled with a solution stacked onto trucks and distributed across the country. Not a bad worldly trip for that piece of plastic you recycled all those months ago.

As the consumer, that’s great. You’re reusing a piece of plastic. So buy the recycled bottle, use it, finish it and add it back to the recycling bin. That plastic takes another trip around the world.

But…..the third time around. It will go through all it’s processing here, get shipped to the plastic making plant overseas. Once there it will be assessed again and because it’s been recycled a few times already it may either get mixed with other plastic or worse still fill up that country’s landfill.   

The moral of the story is plastic is still plastic. Recycled or not. Just because someone slaps a nice green recycled logo on it doesn’t mean it’s always better for the environment. Like our previous blog about reducing is the new recycling it’s super important to be on the side of reducing waste not just recycling it.

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