HOW DOES RECYCLING WORK?

From Waste to New Products

Recycling plastic waste into new products is a piece of the puzzle in a sustainable waste management.
There are two main categories of technologies for plastic recycling:

During mechanical recycling, plastic waste is recycled into new material without altering the chemical structure of the polymer.

Discover below the mechanical recycling processes.

In chemical recycling, sorted plastic waste undergoes a process where polymers are broken down into individual building blocks. These can then be transformed back into new plastic products.

1Collection

After a plastic product is used, it is collected – either separately, with other plastic or mixed with metal or paper.

2Sorting

Current technologies like Near-Infra-Red (NIR), Visual Inertial System (VIS) or Artificial Intelligence (AI), sort the waste by material and product type. During this process, the plastic is placed on a conveyor belt, just like the one at a cash desk of a supermarket.

3Size reduction

Plastics are shredded into smaller pieces – called flakes – to ease reprocessing in the following stages.

4Washing & density separation

Flakes are washed in a tank to remove unwanted materials like food residue or dirt, as in a washing machine. They are also separated by density in a float-sink tank, where each type will either float if its density is lower than that of water or sink if it’s heavier.

5Extrusion

Plastic flakes are melted – just as wax melts – filtered to remove any unwanted materials, and turned into a material ready to be shaped into new plastic products!

6Quality check

After a plastic product is used, it is collected – either separately, with other plastic or mixed with metal or paper.

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Learn more about
recycling processes.

Do you know that the recycling processes can differ depending on the plastic type?

Take a look at the following factsheets to learn more about the most common plastic waste streams in Europe.