There’s many reasons some plastics can’t be recycled, but we’ve listed and explained some of them below.
Summary – Reasons Why Some Plastic Can’t Be Recycled
Some common reasons might include:
It’s a type of plastic that is classified as non recyclable
The chemical makeup of the plastic isn’t recyclable
It’s already been recycled too many times (and has lost quality and integrity)
It can’t be mixed with other plastics
The product that the plastic is used in makes it hard to recycle (product design)
Recycling isn’t economically feasible or profitable
Recycling facilities need upgrading or change to process more plastic
Recycling facilities and systems/processes differ from region to region
Contamination is an issue
1. It’s A Non Recyclable Plastic
Let’s start with the obvious reason – some types of plastic are recyclable whilst others aren’t.
There can be a number of reasons for this.
2. Chemical Make Up Of The Plastic
Some plastics just don’t have the chemical make up to be processed in a recycling plant.
It’s usually specific types of plastic that can be recycled, and also harder or rigid plastics compared to the single use soft plastics.
If we take PVC for example – the chlorine atoms in it make it hard to recycle.
3. It’s Already Been Recycled Too Many Times
Different plastics lose durability and quality as they are recycled – this is due to the shortening and weakening of the fibres that make up the plastic.
A weaker and lower quality plastic either won’t meet the standard of performance it needs to, or won’t have as much economic value.
4. It Can’t Be Mixed With Other Plastics
Because of chemical make up, some plastics just can’t be mixed with others.
This is an issue for recycling, especially single stream recycling – where different types of plastic are collected together.
5. The Product The Plastic Is Used In Makes It Hard To Recycle (Product Design)
Some products are designed and manufactured in a way that doesn’t allow for recycling.
A sports drink, for instance, can have three different and incompatible types of plastic in the bottle, the shrink-wrapped film, and the lid.
All three components can be individually recycled but they are rarely separated other than by shredding.
[another example is] black plastic trays.
Their only function is to amplify the colour of a product, yet they also prevent recycling as sorting machines cannot detect black pigment.
6. It Doesn’t Make Economic Sense/It’s Not Profitable
Because of the value of the plastic material, the cost to recycle, the market demand or value of the recycled product, or a number of other economic reasons – some plastics just aren’t profitable or economically viable to recycle (compared to landfill or other options).
7. Recycling Facilities, & Recycling Technology & Equipment Differs From Region To Region
Not all recycling facilities work the same way or have the same capabilities.
Different localities, states, and countries can have different recycling technology and facilities.
Some can recycle some types of plastic and plastic products that others can’t.
8. Recycling Facilities Or Recycling System As A Whole Need Upgrading Or Change
Usually a problem specific to developing countries.
Some developing countries lack a proper waste collection and management system altogether, so there is a high amount of plastic that doesn’t get collected, and ends up on the land, in rivers and eventually in the ocean.
Contaminated plastic, usually with food waste or food scraps, usually can’t be recycled.