The familiar recycling triangles found on objects made of plastics indicate that the material is capable of being recycled. As different plastics have different physical characteristics and cannot be recycled together satisfactorily, the number identifies the particular plastic. However, whether or not you can recycle your plastic waste depends on the facilities in your area. The 07 triangle represents plastics that do not fall into any of the other categories and none of these plastics is currently recycled on a national scale.
All plastics can be recycled but some materials are more expensive to process and so are not recycled. Plastics are divided into two distinct groups:
- Thermosets are materials that on being heated and moulded set permanently, and therefore cannot be re-melted and re-formed, they can, however, be ground down to a powder or chipped and reused
- Thermoplastics are materials that can be re-melted after moulding and therefore can be recycled easily and more cheaply than thermosets by melting and reforming.
Recycling will only take place if the infrastructure is available and if the plastics are easily recovered. The use of multiple materials and composites hinders the process further. To be part of a sustainable circular economy the value of the material must be recognised and maintained within the system. At the time of writing different local authorities take different materials into their recycling systems and it can be very confusing as to what they take.
The issue of recyclability is not just at the hands of the local authority or the general public. For an object to become good quality recyclate when its useful life comes to an end, the designer and manufacturer have to consider the construction of their product. It must be easily disassembled or deconstructed and offer a clean uncontaminated recyclate by being free of paint, coatings, labels, or adhesive.