Industrial Plastic Recycling

Plastics and manufacturing have gone hand in hand since the 1930s, when World War II brought great demand for plastics as substitutes for materials, like rubber, which were in short supply. Today, “plastics are one of the most used materials (on a volume basis) in U.S. industrial and commercial life.” As such, they are one of the largest opportunity areas for industrial recycling. Here are some tips for optimizing your company’s industrial plastic recycling.

Recycling By Type

Plastic is a broad term, used to describe a wide number of synthetic or semi-synthetic organics. While all plastic is recyclable, if you want to recycle plastic, you have to recycle it according to its specific chemical composition, or polymer type. To make recycling easier, plastic manufacturers have implemented a numeric resin identification coding system. You have probably seen the chasing arrows symbols surrounding a number 1-7 on the bottom of many plastic containers. These symbols are meant to aid with recycling by identifying 7 common plastics by polymer (resin):

  1. Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET or PETE)
  2. High Density Polyethylene (HDPE)
  3. Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC)
  4. Low-Density Polyethylene (LDPE)
  5. Polypropylene (PP)
  6. Polystyrene (PS)
  7. Other

While not all plastic materials contain resin codes, these materials can still be recycled if they are collected by polymer type. If you don’t know the polymer type but have a large quantity of a specific plastic item you want to recycle, just ask your recycling service provider and they should be able to explain how to collect and sort that item for recycling. Note that sorting and collection requirements will vary by recycling service provider.

Common Recyclable Plastic Items

Sometimes people think “plastic recycling” and only imagine plastic water bottles and drink containers. But the opportunities for industrial plastic recycling go far beyond common food and drink packaging materials. After conducting hundreds of site visits for companies across various industry types, here are some common recyclable plastic items we’ve found at manufacturing and distribution facilities:

  • LDPE Film (stretch wrap, sheet film, clean plastic bags)
  • PET Pallet Banding
  • Super Sacks
  • PP/PE Packaging
  • Kraft Poly-lined Bags (the poly liner is usually recyclable plastic while the kraft is paper)
  • Plastic Drums and Buckets
  • HDPE Belting and Tooling
  • Miscellaneous PPE Gear

Chances are, if your company purchases external supplies, you probably have some form of plastic waste from packaging materials. A great way to better understand your company’s opportunities for plastic recycling is to implement a waste audit. Some recycling service providers, like Northstar Recycling, will conduct an initial waste audit when they begin servicing your recycling. However, because we understand that companies are always growing and changing, Northstar Recycling provides waste audits and recycling consultation as an ongoing service, and uses them to insure our clients continually optimize their waste reduction and recycling opportunities. To learn how Northstar Recycling can assist your business in optimizing your industrial plastic recycling, contact us today.

Best Practices for Industrial Plastic Recycling

Whether you’ve been recycling plastic for years or your company is just beginning to implement a plastic recycling program, here are some best practices we’ve developed for optimizing industrial plastic recycling:

  1. Sort by type and value – As we mentioned earlier, plastic must be recycled by chemical composition or resin. While some recycling companies offer various commingled collection options, commingling your recyclables reduces their value and can affect any rebates your might receive. Because space can be a factor limiting your sorting options, it is best to work with your recycling service provider to identify what quantity of plastic types your company produces and which plastics will be worth the most money when collected separately.
  2. Source separate as much as possible Source separating means collecting a specific type of recyclable directly at the location where that item becomes waste. For instance, if your manufacturing facility has a packaging line that produces a certain type of plastic waste, source separating would mean collecting that plastic material at the packaging line. Source separating is a great way to keep valuable recyclables separate from less valuable items without having to implement an addition sorting process (saving you time and resources).
  3. Remove contamination – While it is not always possible to rinse and wipe clean every piece of plastic waste, taking time to remove as much contamination as possible can help increase the value of your plastic recycling streams. Taking this extra step to increase the quality of your plastic recyclables will also go a long way towards improving relationships with your recycling service provider, as recycling contamination can prove both costly and harmful to recycling workers and equipment.
  4. Invest in a baler (or other compacting equipment) – One great thing about plastic is that it is very light weight. However, recycling rebates are often based on weight, and industrial plastic recycling materials usually are not in their most dense form. This means that when you collect plastic for recycling, you collect a lot of air.  Do you really want to pay transportation and recycling costs for a trailer load of air? If not, you should consider investing in equipment, like a baler, which will compact your recyclables prior to transportation. For instance, at Northstar recycling, we like to use the Bace V63HD vertical baler. When used to bale plastic film, this baler compresses the film into a dense, 60″ x 30″ x 48″ size bale, which weighs about 800 pounds. If you wanted to recycle the same poundage of plastic film without using a baler, this material would require multiple bags, or over 10 Gaylords. That is a lot of extra space. We have seen companies save thousands of dollars by baling their recyclables rather than paying to transport loose materials. Consider how much money your company could save in transportation costs by baling your plastic.

These are just a few best practices for industrial plastic recycling. For more ideas on how to optimize your company’s waste and recycling program, consider contacting us today.

At Northstar recycling, we believe sending waste to a landfill is not only bad for the environment, it is also bad for business. That’s why we specialize in helping businesses recycle more and landfill less.