There’s no question that pollution from plastic waste is a huge problem, and the recycling of plastic packaging has a large role in helping solve the problem.
Recycling plastic packaging is a multi-step process that ensures these materials’ efficient and safe repurposing. Let’s take a closer look at how this process typically works:
First, the collection and transportation phase begins by gathering plastic packaging from homes, businesses, and recycling centers. These collected materials are then transported to specialized recycling facilities.
Once at the recycling facility, the plastics undergo sorting and separation based on their type and quality. Automated machines play a crucial role in this step, as they can identify and separate different types of plastics like PET, HDPE, and more. Manual labor may also be employed for additional sorting.
The sorting process is vital in obtaining high-quality recycled material by ensuring the separation of various types of plastic. After sorting, the plastics are thoroughly cleaned to remove impurities such as food residue or other contaminants. This is a crucial step to ensure the quality of the recycled material.
The concept of adding digital watermarks to plastic packaging (the Holy Grail 2.0 project) promises to radically improve the accuracy and speed when sorting the stream of material. This is using the digital marking developed by Digimarc.
Next, the clean plastics are shredded into smaller pieces, making them easier to process and aiding in identifying any non-plastic materials that may still be present. Further identification and classification might be necessary to determine the quality and suitability of the plastic flakes or pellets for recycling. Advanced techniques like near-infrared spectroscopy can be employed for this purpose.
The shredded plastic pieces then undergo a thorough washing to ensure the complete removal of contaminants. Once cleaned, the plastic flakes are melted and extruded, reshaping the material into a consistent form. In some cases, different types of plastics may be blended during this process to produce a required output material.
The molten plastic is then formed into pellets through a process called pelletizing. These pellets are a standardized material that can be sold to manufacturers to produce new plastic products. Throughout the process, quality control measures are implemented to ensure the final product meets the required standards of purity and consistency.
Finally, the recycled plastic pellets are packaged and distributed to various manufacturers. These manufacturers will utilize the pellets to create new plastic products, thus completing the recycling loop.
By recycling plastic packaging, we reduce the amount of waste in landfills and the environment and conserve valuable resources through material reuse. Technological advancements are making plastic recycling more efficient and effective, contributing to a more sustainable approach to plastic use and waste management.