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Guide to Recycling Plastics

PlasticsWe are all aware of the damage plastics can have on the environment and that we should be recycling wherever possible. However, with so many different rules regarding the best way to recycle and reuse and also so many different types of plastic, the whole thing can be extremely confusing and overwhelming. Here is our definitive guide to recycling plastics  .

What are plastics?

To start off with, we want to understand exactly what is meant by the term plastic, as it covers a myriad of things. The properties of plastic mean that they can be moulded into practically anything, from forks to straws to cars. Although all of these are classed under the umbrella term of plastic, there are in fact many different types. Here we describe some of the different types.

•    Epoxy resin filler is a type of plastic that becomes hard after only a few minutes and can be placed into wood that has rotted away
•    D30 is a soft plastic that hardens once it has been suddenly hit. This type of plastic is often used for sports equipment as it can provide added protection 
•    Fibreglass is a combination of plastic and glass and is often used for constructing methods of transport such as boats or cars

Plastics are formed from polymers which are compounds made from combining monomers. Depending on the different monomers chosen, different plastics are created which all have their own specific properties. Plastics also act differently when they are heated. Thermoplastics (such as water bottles and plastic toys) soften and bend when heated, whereas others, known as thermosets, will never soften (for example, epoxy resin and polyurethane).

In order to properly recycle plastic, a person must have an understanding of what type of plastic it is. Plastics need to be placed with others of their kind before they are recycled. 

You may not even realise that some items contain plastic. For example, the material tights are made from, Nylon, is in fact a plastic, but isn't what usually springs to mind when you imagine plastic.

Why is plastic problematic

Although some plastics can be recycled, overall plastic is a huge problem because they are as a whole synthetic. Since they do not naturally form in nature, animals and other forms of life have not yet adapted to them being in their environment. The disposable nature of many plastics means that they often end up in our landscapes and oceans, causing significant damage to our wildlife. 

Some plastic can also be extremely toxic when they are heated. Certain chemicals can be exuded from the plastic which can end up in the air or going into the ground, which can bring significant health issues.

Why is recycling plastic important?

As it can take up to 1,000 years for plastic to degrade, landfills cannot cope with plastics. Therefore, it is imperative that plastic is recycled whenever possible. By recycling plastics we are conserving energy as new plastic is not being created from scratch, we are avoiding plastic ending up in our natural environments, we are limiting pollution and also reducing greenhouse gases.

These are merely a few of the benefits to recycling plastics so it is a no brainer that everyone should be doing their part. However, unfortunately, it is not always simple. We regularly check items to see if they are recyclable but the symbols can often be confusing. This can lead people to assume the product is not recyclable when in fact it is. Alternatively, it can lead people to automatically assume it is recyclable when it isn't, which can then contaminate the rest of the recycling. 

How we can recycle at home 

Reuse plastic containers
Before throwing anything away, see if you can use it again. Plastic containers make great storage and saves you buying some new containers.

Save plastic bottles to use in the garden 
They can make great watering cans

Squash plastic bottles down 
Before placing plastic bottles in the bin, squash them down. Not only does this mean you can fit more in your recycling bin, but it also makes it easier to sort at the recycling plant if the plastics are lying flat.

Remove any food
Rinse out items before placing them in the recycling bin. 

Have recycling bins around the house 
Do not limit yourself to only having a recycling bin in the kitchen. A lot of waste from bathrooms and home offices can also be recycled. However, many people simply place all the items in the nearest bin and may not think about recycling.

Whilst a plastic-free world is not attainable at the moment as plastics have many positive uses, it is important for us to understand that not all plastics are the same. They need to be treated differently and if we can all do our part at home and at work, we can slowly make recycling second nature.

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