Today, the word “plastic” can be a taboo. But more and more, the conversation around the material is changing from aversion to repurposing. Efforts to do away with plastic straws by eateries like McDonalds, renewed thinking around packaging and plastic bag usage from companies (which accounts for about half of plastic waste globally), and even a rehaul for the materials used by a major, international sportswear brand, all inform the significant paradigm shift occurring in commerce and at home today.
Important to consider is how plastic-use reform is happening at both the consumer/individual level, as well as the corporate level.
When you see plastic pellets, they’ll often be virgin HDPE (high density polyethylene) and PP (polypropylene), or recycled HDPE and PP. For folks interested in both sustainability and innovating with plastics, it’s imperative to understand the differences between “virgin” and “recycled” plastic materials.
Virgin: This type of plastic resin is produced and derived from “mechanical resources” such as natural gases, petroleum resources, and crude oils. The important differentiating factor is that these sources have never been processed before. It’s newly-made plastic.
Plastic is modified and processed by applying heat and pressure in a plant. The heat liquifies the plastic so it can be molded, and the pressure plays its role in forming the liquid into an acceptable and consistent shape.
The more this process is done to plastics, the weaker the molecules inside become. Therefore, virgin plastics have the most lifespan when considering the lifecycle of a plastic product from inception.
A better description for “recycled” plastic is reclaimed or repurposed. While virgin plastic is pretty straight-forward and standard in its definition, recycled plastic can be of many different origins and types. We’ll start by differentiating post-consumer (materials that were once in the hands of a consumer) and post-industrial (the opposite: these materials never left the factory to reach consumers).
This type of plastic is considered any material that has been reclaimed after it has left the hands of the consumer. As an example, recycled materials or items like toothbrushes or packaging, are taken to a processing facility to be treated. From there, the materials are washed, re-ground, and pelletized into a new post-consumer material.
Conversely, post-Industrial plastic is recycled plastic that never left the factory or manufacturing floor, and therefore never made it to the consumer. As an efficiency and cost-saving measure, manufacturers like Planet Clean try to achieve what’s considered “zero waste” during the production and recycling process. Misproductions, scraps and other materials unsuitable for individuals are all considered options for post-industrial plastic recycling.
Thanks for reading. Stay tuned for more from Planet Clean.