Recyclable

If the facilities, such as good bin (1) provision, are available and the consumer or manufacturer is willing, all plastics have the capability to be recycled. Some materials are more easily reprocessed than others, and it becomes more complicated when multiple materials are used in combination, either through lamination or separate componentry.

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The simplest materials to recycle are the thermoplastics, those which can be shredded, melted, and reprocessed (2-4). Other plastics materials, the thermosets, have to be ground or chipped to be reused. The latter is a more laborious process and as such is seldom done. On the occasion it is, the chipped materials can become a design feature (5) of the new product.

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There are many factors which make it difficult to recycle plastics materials. If a material is dark in colour, the resulting recyclate also has to be dark. To counter this, Coca-Cola changed its iconic green Sprite bottle (6) to clear (7) in 2019, and Dai Nippon Printing use an external, removable film to provide colour to their clear bottles (8-9).

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An ideal way to value products in our possession is to look after and reuse them for as long as is practicable, finally recycling the materials once they reach the end of their useful life. This, of course, has an onus on designers and manufacturers to create products that are robust, when they need to be robust, and easily recycled into a circular economy (10) when necessary.

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Users and consumers need to embrace this circular system too but there is a hindrance to recycling if the infrastructure is not in place. This is not just problematic in developing countries where waste materials are often disposed of directly into rivers or open landfill sites, but also in industrialised economies where value is not placed on closed loop and circular manufacturing or on the waste materials themselves. For this to change, policies and attitudes across societies and governments need to be adjusted.

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