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Recycling 101: Traditional Recycling

The life of a plastic carton, bottle or package doesn’t end when it’s tossed into a recycling bin. It begins again.

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There are many different ways to prevent plastic from becoming waste. One of the most common is known as traditional, or mechanical, recycling. Recycling is a simple step we all can take to ensure plastic products are being used to their full potential.

How Does Traditional Recycling Work?

In most cases, a multi-step process is used to produce the materials that make new plastic products. That process usually includes grinding, washing, separating, drying, regranulating and compounding.

Typically, traditional recycling involves only thermoplastic materials. These are materials that can be remelted and reprocessed into new products using injection molding or extrusion. Through traditional recycling, recycled plastic can directly replace new plastic materials (also known as virgin materials) in the production process.

When products are manufactured with recycled content, their environmental footprint is significantly reduced. By seeking out and demanding more products made with recycled plastics, consumers can help influence brand owners to choose to use recycled content.

Why Is Traditional Recycling Important

Collage showing a gas grill and exhaust pipe of a car

Many companies are working to make recycling even more environmentally beneficial. For example, Novolex™, a family of North American packaging brands, has established the largest closed-loop plastic bag, wrap and film recycling center. The center uses recycled plastics to create bags that have all the characteristics of those made with virgin materials, at a comparable price, thereby extracting even more value out of the process.

How Can People Continue to Make a Difference?

Everyone has a role to play in helping to ensure the process of recycling is as effective as it can be. The most important thing consumers can do? Recycle, and recycle right. This means making sure what they’re putting in recycling bins is accepted in their local program.

Graphic showing all of the different items that are and are not recyclable

Currently, 94% of U.S. residents living in communities with a population more than 125,000 have recycling programs available to them. Curbside programs typically accept clean plastic bottles, jars and jugs.

Plastic bag recycling bin at a grocery store

There are some materials people don’t think are recyclable but actually are. Many plastic films (including plastic wraps and bags) can be recycled in return-to-retail programsdrop-off bins are often located at grocery stores. While more than 90% of the U.S. has access to plastic film recycling, the recycling rate for this type of plastics was only 17% in 2014.

The plastics industry is working to close this gap by informing consumers and advocating for easier, more accessible recycling programs across the nation. You can use these resources to get a better understanding of recycling, how to recycle and more:

  • Earth911: Search by zip code to find recycling locations for various types of plastic materials; learn how to recycle plastic bags, caps, lids, jugs, bottles, wraps, films and packing peanuts
  • How2Recycle: Learn more about recycling labels, what they mean and what to look for
  • Plastic Film Recycling: Find convenient drop-off locations for plastic film recycling
  • Home for Foam: Locate processors that purchase post-industrial and post-consumer foam; find foam recycling resources for city governments, homes, businesses and schools
  • I Want to Be Recycled: Learn how recycling works and explore the potential of post-use materials
  • Recycle Your Plastics: Explore a resource designed for recycling professionals, by recycling professionals
  • Recycle Across America: Find more information about recycling and the labels often found on recycling bins

Be sure to check with your municipality about what you can recycle at home.

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