Plastic is one of the key materials in today’s economy. Every year, around 400 million tons of plastic are produced worldwide, of which around 70 million tons originate in Europe. According to the United Nations (UN), only 14% is recycled, although in recent years much investment has been made at all levels both to increase the volume of recycling and to give it a longer useful life. The problem? There are many types of plastic and not all of them are recycled in the same way.

As a general rule, plastic is produced from resin polymers that are mixed with petroleum-derived substances, which are subjected to various practices involving pressure and heat until the type of plastic required is formed. It should be borne in mind that its use is so widespread that it forms an essential part of industries as diverse as the food, automotive, textile and health industries, to cite just a few examples. In any case, depending on the molding process, it is possible to generate different types of plastics with physical and mechanical properties.

The most recyclable plastics

The following plastics are suitable for recycling, depending on their use once they have been recycled:

  • Polyethylene terephthalate (PET), which has unique properties such as lightness, high flexibility, resistance to extreme temperatures or to steam and various gases. It is also transparent, which makes it ideal for food preservation and marketing. It is the most widely used type of plastic in the world.
  • Polyvinyl chloride (PVC), which is rigid and hard. As such, it is mainly used to package materials and ensure their protection. It contains a toxic substance called nonylphenol.
  • High-density polyethylene (PE-HD), which is characterized by good moisture resistance and, like PVC, is quite strong. It is widely used in the sanitary sector and in beverage factories.
  • Polypropylene (PP), which is quite flexible yet tough. It is used to produce disposable material or, for example, to make kitchen utensils.
  • Polystyrene (PS), which is highly moldable. As a result, it is used to make packaging foam or in industries such as electronics.
  • Low-density polyethylene (LDPE), which is very flexible and withstands heat quite well. It is the essential element for producing bags for the food industry. One of the problems it suffers from is that it contains some toxic substances, such as aldehydes, ketones or carboxylics.

In addition to these classes of plastics that are recyclable, there is a group, formally labeled with the letter O, which includes types of plastics that cannot be recycled, such as acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) and polycarbonates.

PET has unique properties, such as lightness, transparency, high flexibility and strength

The importance of recycling plants

Once the plastic is collected mainly from the yellow containers, it is taken to the sorting plants, where it is sorted according to its composition and color and any impurities it may have contained are removed.

The plastic is then shredded into small pieces called pellets, which will be the basis for manufacturing the various products. At this point, they are subjected to a second washing process, which precedes a drying stage. From there, the plastic undergoes various heating and molding processes until it has its final appearance.

REPETCO recently announced that it has secured €30.8 million from the European Investment Bank (EIB) for the construction of a plastic delamination and recycling plant. The company has been able to develop a proprietary, environmentally friendly, patented system for multilayer PET/PE food packaging. By means of a unique process, rPET pellets and rPET are generated that can be reused in the food industry with multilayer PET/PE trays and sheet packaging; in bottles for soft drinks or detergents; and in fibers for the textile and automotive industry.

Other articles of interest: The main advantages of rPET packaging over other packages