Polymer Recycling

As with steel and aluminium, polymer waste comes from two main sources:

  • Industrial and manufacturing waste
  • Domestic waste

Of these, polymer waste created at the manufacturing stage is easiest to recycle as it will be of predictable composition.

Plastics make up about one third of the volume of domestic waste, and the figure is increasing. Plastic obtained from recycling household waste will contain several types of polymer, making it more difficult to re-use.

photo: mixed plastics in kerbside recycling

Methods for Plastic Recycling

Plastic can be recycled in several different ways, depending on the type of polymer and the purity of the source of waste.

  • Mixed waste can be used as a fuel
  • Single-plastic waste can be shredded or pelleted, mixed with fresh polymer ready for moulding
  • Single-plastic waste can be broken chemically into the monomer, and re-polymerised - this is done with nylon from carpets
  • Mixed polymer waste can be "cracked" to make chemical feedstock, which is then used to manufacture plastics and other chemicals


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