PACKPEDIA – The Encyclopedia of Packaging by UP

What is recycling?

It is a recovery operation through which waste materials are processed to obtain new products, materials or substances to be used for their original purpose or for other purposes.

A product is recyclable if:

  • It is made of recyclable plastic (plastic that is collected based on governmental regulatory).
  • It is separated and aggregated in defined recycling processes.
  • It can be processed and recycled with commercial recycling processes.
  • It becomes a new raw material for producing new products.

If a package is recycle-ready it means that it has been designed and manufactured to enable recycling.

Recycling in plastics

The plastic materials are divided into:

  • Homogeneous, or rather consisting entirely of the same polymer.
  • Heterogeneous, consisting of two or more different polymers such as most of the current packaging films that are multilayered and each layer is composed of a different material.

The recycling process can be:

  • Mechanical: flakes or granules are obtained which will be used for the production of new objects. The material obtained is better the more the starting plastic is homogeneous (mono material); mechanical recycling consists of a series of operations designed to recover plastics through mechanical processes (shredding, washing, separation, drying, re-granulation) and is subdivided into:

– Primary: the plastic materials are ground and recycled together with the virgin polymeric material to obtain products having the same uses as those formed only with virgin material, but possess lower mechanical properties (due to thermomechanical degradation during processing).

– Secondary: the materials are recycled without being combined with the virgin material. Thus, the formed objects have much lower mechanical and aesthetic properties than those of the original material from which they derive and must therefore be used in a different way, in other applications other than the original ones. This is more the case in the treatment of heterogeneous plastic materials, of different types, from which a heterogeneous recycled plastic is obtained.

  • Chemical, less common due to very high costs, but already applied on an industrial level. Chemical recycling consists of a series of chemical processes where the polymers that constitute plastic waste are converted into the original monomers (raw materials), which are again subjected to polymerization. The materials obtained after recycling have the same mechanical and aesthetic properties as the starting ones and identical uses.

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