There are about 50 different families of plastics, each with hundreds of varieties. Because plastics are light in weight transport costs for waste plastic to a recycling centre are relatively high and the number of different plastics makes sorting complicated.
To make recycling easier the American Society of Plastics developed a marking code to help people identify and sort the six main types of plastic. These types are shown below:
95% of plastic bottles in household waste are made from HDPE, PVC or PET.
To collect one tonne of plastic you would require 300,000 plastic bags or 20,000 milk bottles.
We do not recycle plastics in Gloucestershire for many difference reasons. First it is very expensive to collect and store such a light material. Second the 'environmental' cost as well as economic cost of transporting plastics to the nearest recycling centre that can accommodate them is prohibitive. Third the many different types of plastics cannot be collected together and if they were we would need very expensive equipment to sort them into the different types.
We need to examine the full life cycle of materials and the environmental cost of their disposal As part of the Gloucestershire Waste Management Strategy for the next twenty years we are examining the effects of using plastics and other material to produce energy. Plastics are made from oil and as such has a very high calorific value, which means that we can get a lot of energy from them. It is now realised that although recycling is a valuable tool in saving the planet it is not necessarily the best or only tool.
The environmental cost to the planet that has been saved because we use plastics should also be taken into account. For example, coffee transported in glass containers need three times the energy and associated pollution to transport to the stores than if that coffee were packed in plastic jars. Plastic is also very useful in reducing the wastage and contamination of food in our supermarkets and helps to reduce the amount of methane produced from rotting food.
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