It is clear to anyone can pays attention that consumer plastic recycling has been a colossal failure. Municipal recycling programs across the country have failed to meet expectations. More of them are being shut down every year. That begs the question of whether plastic recycling, as a whole, is a failure.
Can any plastics be recycled at a profit? In a word, yes. And make no mistake about it, profit is the key. Municipal recycling programs can certainly put consumer plastics back into the manufacturing stream. What they cannot do is make a profit. That’s why consumer plastic recycling doesn’t work.
On the other hand, industrial plastic recycling has long been a profitable venture. Just ask Seraphim Plastics out of Tennessee. The company buys and recycles plastic in seven states. Not only that, but they also aren’t the only ones doing it. Industrial plastic recyclers are doing brisk business across the country.
One of the keys to successful industrial plastic recycling is load purity. This is easily illustrated with the principle of recycling plastic purge and cutoffs. Both types of plastic waste are generated by manufacturers. It is generated through processes like injection molding, rotational molding, extrusion, etc.
- The plastic scrap cannot be mixed with anything else.
- The material cannot be contaminated with any chemicals.
Enforcing these two conditions guarantees that Seraphim can process the plastic scrap without having to clean or sort. The entire load can go from truck to grinders without any intermediate steps. Not having to clean or sort keeps the company’s costs extremely low, thereby allowing them to make a profit.
Companies like Seraphim can make good money on clean and separated PET bottles, too. These are the water and juice bottles we are all so familiar with. As long as a recycler can pick up a load of already baled bottles that have been cleaned and separated, those bottles can go straight to grinders once they reach the processing plant.
As a side note, did you know that PET is the most recycled plastic in the United States? Recycling PET is one of the few success stories involving consumer plastics. Anyone who has ever taken empty water and juice bottles back to the grocery store for recycling knows that cleaning and separating is what makes it work.
- ● Plastic pallets
- ● Buckets and totes
- ● Dunnage trays
- ● Plastic tubs and pipes
- ● PVC materials.
Truth be told, any type of plastic that can be transformed into regrind can be recycled at a profit. There are many more recyclable industrial plastics that Seraphim doesn’t deal with. That’s okay. They are leaving room for other companies willing to deal with those plastics.
The main lesson in all of this is that plastic really isn’t the problem people think it is. We have not failed at recycling consumer plastics because there is something inherently bad about plastic itself. We have failed because of the process.
If we applied the industrial plastic recycling principle to consumer plastics, municipal recycling would suddenly be a tremendous success. The other side of that coin is this: we will continue to fail if we keep using a process that hasn’t worked for 50 years.