Understanding the Plastic Recycling Process in the UK

This blog from SL Recycling explains the plastic recycling process in the UK, detailing the various stages involved.

Firstly, though, it’s important to understand why we should recycle plastic.

Why Recycle Plastic?

Recycling reduces the amount of extracting, refining and processing of raw materials required to create the world’s products. Keeping these processes to a minimum helps reduce energy usage, which in turn limits the generation of greenhouse gas emissions – a main contributor to climate change.

Plastics are a highly attractive candidate for recycling due to their diverse nature. Recycled plastic can be used to create a whole host of new materials ranging from lumber to carpets. In addition to their recyclable properties, the high demand for plastic recycling is largely determined by the disproportionate quantity of plastic waste generated by day-to-day processes – with so many daily resources and products harbouring hefty plastic content.

The Plastic Recycling Process

It’s worth noting that different sub-varieties of plastic require entirely different recycling processes to one another. Plastics are made up of a variety of chemical components, which can make them more challenging to recycle. This challenge is reflected within the multi-stage process that is required to recycle plastics effectively.

The plastic recycling process features a range of steps, all of which play a vital role in producing material that is fit for manufactural supply. Here we outline the steps involved in the UK plastic recycling process.

Collection

Recycling can be collected by both government lead recycling programs and private waste disposal companies. The plastics accepted by one service may differ from that accepted by the next, so it is important to check beforehand.

At SL Recycling, for example, we offer a range of plastic recycling services that cover a variety of plastic types. The solutions offered help maximise the recycling of plastic materials and limit the amount of plastic that is sent to landfill.

The types of plastic we purchase and collect include:

  • Polyethylene
  • ABS
  • Polystyrene
  • Nylons
  • Polycarbonate
  • Acrylic
  • Acetal

Sorting

The next stage of any plastic recycling process is sorting. The sorting process separates plastic varieties from one another, which allows them to undergo the correct recycling process for their particular type. Sorting plastics early in the recycling process also allows for greater efficiency along the line.

Plastic sorting is sometimes carried out by hand but is often completed using sorting machines at recycling plants. Sorting variables include features such as such as colour, thickness and use. Some plants even use infrared sensors to detect a plastic’s type and sort it into its allocated group.

Washing

After plastics have been sorted, they must be washed before the recycling process can continue.

Washing is an important stage of the plastic recycling process as it rids the target materials of any debris or contamination which may hinder the effectiveness of steps that follow. If contaminated plastic slips through the net, it can make a whole batch of recycled material unusable.

Common sources of debris include food waste or paper labels used for packaging. The importance of this step is reinforced by the guidance offered by many recycling services, that materials should be as clean as possible prior to collection, as to limit challenges with severe contamination at this stage.

Shredding

The next step of the recycling process is shredding. During the shredding process, the sorted and washed materials are fed into shredders which break the plastic down into smaller pieces. Different types of plastic materials may require feeding through different shredding machinery, depending on properties such as size and thickness.

Shredding plastics at this stage makes them easier to handle and re-use in later stages of the recycling process. Shredding also allows for the identification of any remaining impurities that were not identified by the previous stages. Contaminants such as metal are often withdrawn from broken down plastics using magnets at this stage.

Pelleting

Now that materials have been sorted, washed and shredded, the final step of the plastic recycling process is compounding plastic into pellets. During this stage, the crushed pieces are melted down and compressed to form plastic pellets. Once pellets have been formed, they can be sent on to manufacturers to complete the recycling process.

Plastic Recycling with SL Recycling

If you’d like to find out more about plastic recycling or are looking to partner with a reputable plastic recycling company, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with SL Recycling today. With years of industry experience, our expert team are on hand to help you find a recycling solution to suit your needs.

Contact us today and our team will be more than happy to provide you with recommendations, advice and a free quote based on your requirements.