With “climate change” and “environmentally friendly” being very popular terms right now, the plastic recycling and plastic resin industries are in high demand. It’s becoming more and more clear that plastic products need to be recycled and reused in order to keep our landfills, our oceans, and our planet clean. The endeavor to recycle as much plastic as possible, however, is incredibly challenging.
KW Plastics was established in 1981 in order to break through the challenges of plastics recycling. Since then, we have developed and tested methods and techniques in order to recycle and reuse plastic more efficiently. Our recycling plant takes in a variety of plastic scrap materials and recycles them into post-consumer resins.
There are six major plastic types. Here is a breakdown of what each type is and common uses for the plastic. KW Plastics strives to stand out from plastic recycling companies by offering an exceptional product that has been thoroughly tested and is held up to the highest standards. Whether you’re looking to sell bales of plastic scrap or if you need plastic resins, we have a team of knowledgeable and experienced staff who can help you out.
Six Major Types of Plastic
Polyethylene terephthalate (or PET)
The chemical name for polyester, PET is a type of plastic that is clear, strong, lightweight, and is used in a variety of applications. PET is made of ethylene glycol and terephthalic acid, which can be extruded, cooled, and cut into small resin pellets. The pellets are then extruded or molded into nearly any shape.
PET is used in food packaging, such as salad dressings, peanut butter, and cooking oils. It’s also used to make window cleaner containers, shampoo bottles, and some types of PET can be used for microwavable food trays. When used in fabric applications, the plastic is known as polyester, a synthetic material that is used in a significant amount of today’s clothing. PET can also be used for films and video materials.
PET is completely recyclable, which means it can be reused endless times. The plastic will be recycled by breaking it down to make new resin pellets, washed, or re-melting. When PET is reused, it’s often made into carpet, clothing, rope, automotive parts, construction materials, and more.
Made from petroleum, High-density polyethylene (HDPE) is made with ethylene molecules. HDPE is also used in a variety of applications, including milk jugs and automotive parts. The molecules that make up HDPE are stronger than low-density polyethylene, which we’ll look at below, making it stronger, yet it’s still lightweight. Because HDPE is so strong and lightweight, it can be used for a variety of products and is often used to replace heavier products, like car parts and pipes. HDPE is also mold, mildew, impact, and insect-resistant.
HDPE is also highly recyclable. A majority of plastic recycling companies will take HDPE. Recycled HDPE can be used for storage containers, plastic lumber, patio furniture, playground equipment, and trash cans.
Polyvinyl chloride (or PVC)
First developed back in the 1870s, PVC became popular for commercial use in the 1940s and 1950s in construction industries. It can also be used for signs, healthcare applications, and even clothing. PVC comes in two forms: rigid and flexible.
Flexible: To get flexible PVC, plasticizers are added, which makes the material easier to bend. This type is used as insulation for wires or in flooring where it’s important that the area is sterile.
Rigid: Rigid PVC is most often used for construction pipes, plumbing, or vinyl siding. Rigid PVC is very strong, dense, and hard, making it perfect for these applications.
There are several challenges in terms of recycling polyvinyl chloride. PVC has a high chlorine content as well as hazardous additives that give the plastic the desired qualities. PVC needs to be separated from other plastics before it is recycled. The plastic can be recycled by either mechanical or feedstock recycling.
Mechanical: The material needs to be treated (often grinding) in order to break it down into smaller particles. These particles are called recyclate and are melted down and remolded, typically into the initial product it came from.
Feedstock: This is a chemical process that uses pyrolysis, hydrolysis, and heating to break the plastic down into its chemical components.
Low-density polyethylene (LDPE)
Produced before HDPE, LDPE is a lower-density plastic and is impact resistant, moisture, and chemical resistant. LDPE is used to make packaging, shopping bags, aseptic packaging, toys, insulation for wires and cables, film materials, and more. LDPE also has rigid (bottles, containers, lids) and flexible forms (grocery bags, newspaper bags, bread, produce bags, bubble wrap, cereal box liners).
Recycling LDPE can be challenging in that flexible types aren’t often collected by local plastics recyclers. However, some grocery stores do provide drop-off locations for these materials. Rigid products are often picked up by local recyclers. When LDPE is recycled, it is often used to create floor tile, paneling, furniture, landscape timber, shipping envelopes, and trash can liners.
First developed in the 1950s, PP is commonly used in commercial applications and is one of the most commonly used plastics today. PP is used primarily for creating packaging materials, but is also used in electrical and equipment manufacturing as well as household appliances and automotive industries.
PP is chemical resistant, making it a great choice for packaging cleaning agents and first-aid products. The plastic is also strong, flexible, elastic, durable, and has a high resistance to electricity. These qualities make the plastic great for plates, trays, to-go containers, insulation, toys, dairy tubs, and living hinges, or parts that can bend without breaking.
PP can be recycled, but it rarely is due to the challenging and costly process. In order to recycle PP, it must be collected, sorted, cleaned, reprocessed, and produced into a new product. There are several ways in which polypropylene is separated from other polymers, including a sink/float test, the melt/flow index, and a process involving the dissolution and reprecipitation of PP. When PP is recycled, it is often mixed with virgin PP to make clothes or playground equipment.
PS is naturally transparent, but some additives can be used to give the material some color. PS can take either a solid or rigid foam form. Solid polystyrene is used to make appliances, electronics, automotive parts, toys, gardening materials, and more. Rigid foam PS, called expanded polystyrene (EPS) or extruded polystyrene (XPS) is about 95% air and is used to make insulation, protective packaging, surfboards, to-go food containers, and more. Rigid foam PS is often confused with Styrofoam, which is a trademarked product created by Dow Chemical in 1941. We’ll go over the difference between expanded polystyrene and Styrofoam in another blog (hint: your carton of eggs isn’t made with Styrofoam).
Recycling PS is also a challenge due to the fact that it is often thrown away combined with other items, increasing the cost of sorting the materials. Because PS is often used for to-go containers, the plastic has to come into contact with foods, and needs to be cleaned, making it less expensive to simply create new polystyrene rather than recycling it.
At KW Plastics, we do our best to recycle as much plastic, and as many varieties of plastic, as possible. Because so many types of plastic are relatively easy to transform into resins and used to create other products, we strive to create new technology that allows us to do this more efficiently. As a plastic recycling company, we purchase bales of HDPE (rigid, natural, and pigmented) and PP plastics (Spec-PP FIBC, tubes and lids, and battery chips). With this plastic, we create a variety of high-quality post-consumer resins used for packaging, housewares, automotive parts, pipes, agriculture supplies, and more. KW Plastics is passionate about helping keep the world clean and protecting it for future generations. If you’re looking for a plastic recycling company to partner with, get in touch with our team today.