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Recycling Plastics


Recycling Plastics


Chemistry Environmental Problem in Canada Project -- Recycling Plastics

This paper will mainly focus on the recycling of plastics although the aspects of reducing and reusing/repairing will be briefly touched upon.To begin with an over view of what plastics are, the types of degradable plastics that exist, and current methods of plastic desposal will be presented. Finally, an overall assessment of the plastic recycling effort will be made.

What are plastics? Plastics are made of long, chainlike molecules called polymers. There are two different types: Thermoset plastics and thermo plastics. Thermoset plastics are hard and rigid and thermo plastics are soft and more flexable. Thermo plastics can be melted and reshaped many times unlike Thermoset plastics. Nylon, polyethylene, polyurethane and silcones are all types of Thermo plastics. Oil (petrolem) makes plastics, a non-renewable resource.

Today, most of our garbage is likely to end up in a landfill or at an incinerator centre where it is burned. This of course includes plastics. The plastic industry is trying to create new materials that will decompose, but experts are worried that the decomposing process could release toxic substances in to the ground and water. Even if they do become safe, plastics will still take up space in landfills. The majority of plastics do not decompose at all. The plastics ending up in landfills today would be around for a least 500 years! In Canada 1/5 of the solid waste that ends up in landfils is plactic.

There are two different types of degradable plastics. One type is know as photodegradable plastics which break down when they are exposed to sunlight. The problem is that in landfills the plastic are buried and are not exposed to any sunlight. The other type is know as biodegradable plastics which are partly made of cornstarch. Bacteria eat the cornstarch then other chemicals in the environment break down the rest of the plastic into smaller pieces. Unfortunately these smaller pieces of plastic may never be exposed to the environmental chemicals that are necessary to break them down.

Some plastics are completely degradable. For example, surgical thread and the protective covering used for the roots of seedlings. But these plastics are very expensive and unlikly to be used for ordinary garbage bags or other thing we might throw away. Degradable plastics cannot be mixed with recyclable plastics.



Different ways to despose of plastics, other than to use landfills, need to be found. For a long time plastics where just thrown away. Now that landfills are running out of space an alternative needs to be found. Society needs to learn how to Reduce the amount of plastic created in the first place, and to Reuse, Repair, and Recycle as many things as possiable.

Reducing can cut down the number of plastic items produced in the first place. Excessive packaging of goods, overuse of plastic containers and bags in the retail industry can be avoided. Most manufactures are working to reduce the amount of plastic they use in there products. Designers are trying to find ways to cut down on packaging and to design their products with recycling in mind. If the manufactures and designers could do this, it will not only respond to the people’s concerns about the environment it will also save them money.

Many people should start to buy reusable items such as razors with replaceable blades and refillable pens. Instead of desposing of broken items they should be repaired. Another way to prevent waste is to select well-made products that will not easily break.

The recycling of plastic has lagged behind that of paper, glass, and metal because plastic cannot be reduced as easily. The production and use of plastic rises steadily each year. Environmentalist and the plastic industry agree that more plastic must be removed from the waste stream. Recycling is the process of collecting, sorting, and processing recyclable items to be used again, either in their original from or as raw materials making new products. When recycling, it helps preserves the environment, and saves natural resources.

The industry has started to improve on the recycling of plastics. They have developed a system of package coding that identifies seven different types of plastics. If you look on the bottom of a plastic container, you may find a number stamped inside a triangle. This identification system helps in the recycling process, because the plastic items can be sorted according to type.

The most commonly recycled plastic things are softdrink bottles made out of polyethlene terephthalate, code 1 on the plastic container code system for plastic types. These codes help when the plastic end up at the recycling centre. The plastic articles are collected and sorted by hand or by machine at the reprocessing plant. The plastic articles then are chopped up into flakes in a high-speed grinder, cleaned with a spray, then dried in a huge tumble dryer. The dry flakes are melted down, molded into strands, and chopped into pellets. These pellets of recycled plastic can then be used to make new products.

Just recycling is not enough to simply collect plastic. There has to be a demand for products made of recycled plastics. In other words, people have to want to buy them. The plastics industry is trying to create recycled products that people can use. What kind of things can be recycled plastic be made into?

Manufacturing companies in North America are experimenting with new methods of recycling plastics. The Procter & Gamble Company, working with the Plastics Recycling Foundation, developed the first technology to make bottles out of 100 percent recycled plastic. These bottles are made from PET plastic and used for house hold cleaning products.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is the federal government agency that enforces the laws protecting the environment in Canada. It had set a goal in 1997 that in the year 2000, 25 per cent of are garbage would be recycled. By this time only 10 per cent was be recycled, 10 per cent was being reused, repaired, or reduced, and 80 per cent wa being put into landfills. Most comunites have set higher goals then the EPA. Some local governemnts have even passed laws that either ban or sharply curb the use of some kinds of non-degradable plastic.

In the early 90’s, a group of companies in the plastic industry got together to develop realistic standards for the safe disposal and recycling of plastics. They founded the Council for Soild Waste Solutions.

The council helps to get new solid waste management technologies from the designing board to the production line. To put the these solutions into practice, it work with local, provical, federal officials, as well as community and environmental organization. The Council’s goal is to make plastics one of the most recycled materials by the year 2005.




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