Recycle Plastic Bags - Adventures in Environmental Conservation
In this week's adventure of Dr. Marissa and Glen, we find our heroes battling with the issue of recycling sandwich bags. It is important with environmental conservation to better understand what is able to be recycled at home.
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Plastic recycling is the process of recovering scrap or waste plastic and reprocessing the material into useful products. Compared with the lucrative recycling of metal, and similar to the low value of glass recycling, plastic polymers recycling is often more challenging because of low density and low value. There are also numerous technical hurdles to overcome when recycling plastic. Materials recovery facilities are responsible for sorting and processing plastics. As of 2019, due to limitations in their economic viability, these facilities have struggled to make a meaningful contribution to the plastic supply chain. The plastics industry has known since at least the 1970s, that recycling of most plastics is unlikely because of these limitations. However, the industry has lobbied for the expansion of recycling while these companies have continued to increase the amount of virgin plastic being produced.
When different types of plastics are melted together, they tend to phase-separate, like oil and water, and set in these layers. The phase boundaries cause structural weakness in the resulting material, meaning that polymer blends are useful in only limited applications. This is in part, why the plastics industry has developed the resin identification codes. The two most widely manufactured plastics, polypropylene, and polyethylene behave this way, which limits their utility for recycling. Each time plastic is recycled, additional virgin materials must be added to help improve the integrity of the material. So, even recycled plastic has new plastic material added in. Moreover, the same piece of plastic can only be recycled about 2–3. Thus, even when plastics have a resin code, or are collected for recycling, only a small portion of that material is actually recycled. For example, as of 2017, only 8\% of US plastic was recycled.
Since the majority of plastic is non-biodegradable, recycling can be part of reducing plastic in the waste stream. This is important, for example, for reducing the approximately 8 million metric tons of waste plastic that enters the Earth's ocean every year. However, because of the complexity of recycling, a substantial amount of plastic that is collected for recycling is processed in other ways, such as through trash incineration, or not processed at all.
Wikipedia - Plastic recycling
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