Recycled Plastic: origins and role in the circular economy

In recent years, recycled plastic and the circular economy have become topics of great interest and debate. Plastic is a multi-purpose material with multiple uses, and its ability to be recycled is inscribed in its DNA. Recycling plastic after its use has become a must, a custom increasingly rooted in the lifestyle of new generations and beyond. However, it is important to ask where the recycled plastic we use comes from. Understanding the origins of recycled plastic is crucial to fully appreciate its value and role in the circular economy.

Post-industrial plastic

Recycled plastic has two main origins: post-industrial and post-consumer. Post-industrial plastic comes from plastic waste generated by industrial processes. These wastes are often of pure type and color, making them particularly suitable for recycling. According to DIN EN ISO 14021, post-industrial plastic waste is a valuable source for the production of new recycled plastics.

Post-consumer plastic

Post-consumer plastics, on the other hand, come from household waste, typically packaging. A well-known and widely used example of post-consumer packaging is the PET bottle. PET (polyethylene terephthalate) is a material widely recycled and reused in many sectors, thanks to its excellent mechanical properties and its ease of processing.

The recycling process: the different phases

  • Collection and selection

The plastic recycling process begins with the collection of plastic waste, which is then selected by type and color. This step is crucial to ensure that the recycled material is of high quality and free of contamination.

  • Cleaning and grinding

Once selected, the plastic waste is cleaned to remove any impurities. Subsequently, the plastic is ground into small pieces, known as flakes or pellets, which can be easily melted and reformed into new products.

  • Merger and reform

The plastic flakes are melted and transformed into new plastic products. This process can be done by different techniques, such as extrusion or injection molding, depending on the type of final product desired.

Benefits of the circular economy

  • Waste reduction

The circular economy aims to reduce waste and the environmental impact of products through recycling and reuse of materials. Recycled plastic plays a key role in this process, helping to reduce the amount of plastic that ends up in landfills or, even worse, in the environment.

  • Conservation of resources

Recycling plastics conserves natural resources, reducing the need to produce new plastics from virgin raw materials. This, in turn, reduces the environmental impact associated with the extraction and processing of resources.

  • Innovation and sustainability

The use of recycled plastic stimulates innovation and the development of new technologies and sustainable production processes. Companies investing in plastic recycling and the circular economy can benefit from a competitive advantage, improving their reputation and attracting increasingly sustainability-conscious consumers.

The role of recycled plastic in the future

  • New technologies for recycling

Plastic recycling technologies are evolving rapidly, making the process increasingly efficient and less expensive. New techniques, such as chemical recycling, promise to further increase the amount of plastic that can be recycled and improve the quality of recycled material.

  • Education and awareness

Education and public awareness are key to promoting the adoption of recycling and circular economy practices. It is important that consumers understand the importance of plastic recycling and are motivated to participate actively in this process.

  • Policies and regulations

Government policies and regulations can encourage plastic recycling and support the development of the circular economy. Stricter waste management regulations and incentives for companies using recycled plastic can make a difference in promoting a more sustainable future.

Recycled plastic is a valuable resource that can play a key role in the circular economy. Understanding the origins of recycled plastic, the benefits of its use and the challenges it faces is essential to promote sustainable practices and protect our environment. 

With the commitment of all, we can build a future in which plastic is not seen as waste, but as a resource to be exploited and reused.