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Recycled plastics are tomorrow's commercial materials, available today.

Plastic Scrap Recycling

PC - CD regrind

Convenient plastic scrap recycling programs have become more available to a broad swath of the consumer market. Almost 200 million Americans have access to a plastic waste recycling program, whether through curbside collection by a city or private firm or at a drop-off collection center.  Coupled with this increased consumer participation is a rising interest in the commercial applications of recyclable plastics. Energy concerns have drawn attention to used plastics as an alternative source of energy for industry. Rising costs of construction materials made of wood has driven the research and development of lumber made from compressed plastic debris. As old landfills close their gates, innovative companies are building plants which generate electricity by burning plastic scrap.

One reason that a greener plastics industry is possible is the thermoplastic elastomers. Plastic scrap recycling began with the PET in plastic soda bottles and the HDPE found in milk jugs in part because these plastics are able to be cleaned, broken-down, and returned to the manufacturers. Unlike thermoset plastics such as Bakelite and vulcanized rubber, the thermoplastic elastomers can be recycled at every stage in the manufacturing and use- cycle. At the plastic recycling company, scrap pieces can be cleaned, melted down and put back into the supply; at home, consumers can clean out their soda bottles and participate in a community scrap recycling program which reclaims the plastics for another cycle of use.

As plastic recycling technology matures, we can expect more and better uses of recycled post-consumer plastic waste. For example, recycled plastic lumber offers a termite and weatherproof alternative to wood that is slowly gaining acceptance as a primary construction material as the methods of production are refined.

Plastic Scrap Recycling

On the pre-consumer side of the equation, the future holds great promise. Biodegradable plastics are under development that add organic compounds, such as starch, to the plastic during the production process. The introduction of these compounds allows the plastics to break down over time. Perhaps the most intriguing development is in the field of alternative fuels. The much-touted hydrogen fuel cells of the future require hydrogen, and most current methods for generating hydrogen involve burning some form of petroleum. Some alternative fuels researchers are looking at syngas, a recycling by-product composed of hydrogen and carbon monoxide. This gas could be used to power hydrogen fuel cells while the carbon dioxide can be made into methanol, yet another promising alternative energy source.

The usefulness of plastic does not end in a garbage can. Today, recycled plastic waste can generate electricity or hold a roof over your head. Tomorrow, you might be running your car on recycled pop bottles.

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