Recycling: Plastics and other stuff ...

It isn't right to throw something
away that we could save and reuse.

This is the basic concept of recycling. Before valuable materials reach the landfill, we should intercept them and use them in the manufacture new, useful products.

When Alexander Parkes developed the first man-made plastic in the 1860s, he had no idea what an integral role the material would come to play in our everyday lives.

My list of main groups of plastics shows you the recycling symbol (which you will see stamped on virtually all plastic goods), and a brief description of each plastic.
Polyethylene Terephthalate

PET Recycle mark

Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET or PETE) is clear, tough and has very good gas and moisture barrier properties which makes it suitable for carbonated beverage bottles and other food containers.

It's high temperature properties and microwave transparency make it ideal for used in applications such as heatable pre-prepared food trays and sealing films.

It is found in a wide range of applications such as fibers for clothing and carpets, bottles, food containers, strapping, and precision-molded engineering parts.

For Health and Safety advice on PET read - this - and visit - here

High Density Polyethylene

HDPE Recycle mark

High Density Polyethylene (HDPE) is used for many packaging applications.It offers excellent moisture barrier properties and chemical resistance, but like all types of polyethylene HDPE is limited to those food packaging applications that do not require an oxygen or CO2 barrier.

HDPE film is used in snack food packages and cereal box liners, bottles for for milk and non-carbonated beverage, tubs for margarine, whipped toppings and salad-bar foods.

Because it has good chemical resistance, it is used for many household and industrial chemicals such as detergents, bleach and acids.
Polyvinyl Chloride

PVC Recycle mark

Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) has excellent transparency, chemical resistance, long term stability, good weathering characteristics and is an excellent electrical insulator.
It is not attacked by bacteria or micro-organisms.

Vinyl products can be broadly divided into rigid and flexible materials:

  • Rigid applications are mainly found in the construction industry, such as pipes and fittings, guttering, windows frames, sheeting, etc.
  • Flexible vinyl is used for wire and cable insulation, floor coverings, synthetic leather products, medical tubing, etc.
Low Density Polyethylene

LDPE Recycle mark

Low Density Polyethylene (LDPE) is mainly used in film applications due to its toughness, flexibility and transparency. LDPE has a low melting point making it popular for use in applications where heat sealing is necessary.

It is used to manufacture flexible films, supermarket shopping bags and flexible bottles and lids.

LDPE is widely used in wire and cable applications for its stable electrical properties.


PP Recycle mark

Polypropylene (PP) is commonly used in packaging and as it has a high melting point it is ideal for hot fill liquid containers. It has excellent chemical resistance.

Polypropylene is found in everything from flexible and rigid packaging to large molded parts for automotive and consumer products.

Like other plastics, polypropylene has excellent resistance to water, salt solutions and acids. Typical applications include ketchup bottles, yogurt containers, snack meals requiring hot water, medicine bottles and automobile battery casings.


PS Recycle mark

Polystyrene (PS) is a versatile plastic that can be rigid or foamed. General purpose polystyrene is clear, hard and brittle. Its clarity allows it to be used when see-throughability is important, as in medical and food packaging, in laboratory ware, and in the electronics industry.

Expandable Polystyrene (EPS) is commonly used as trays for meats, fish, cheeses and egg boxes. EPS is formed into cups and tubs for dry foods such as dehydrated soups and snack meals. Rigid molded tubs and trays are used extensively by takeaway restaurants because of the excellent thermal insulation and light weight.

Other Plastics

Other plastics - recycle mark

There are many other plastics beyond the most common ones described above.

For example:
Nylon, ABS copolymers, Polycarbonate, Acrylic, Mixed Plastics and Polymethyl Methacrylate.

Recycling Metals  
Europe uses an immense number of collection methods for recycling material, including bring-back schemes and kerbside collection. Because steel is magnetic, it can be retrieved from solid mixed waste by powerful magnets efficiently and economically.




Steel (magnetic) recycling symbol for Europe



Recycle Steel symbol used in Australia & New Zealand


Steelmakers buy back 'tin cans' and any other used steel products and remelt them to begin the process all over again. Although commonly known as 'tin cans', the cans are in fact made of steel. They are called tin cans because there is a very thin layer of tin on the inside of the can which helps to keep the contents fresh. This layer is only about 15 millionths of an inch thick. Three out of every four cans used in the UK are made from steel.

In the last 20 years investment in the steelmaking industry has reduced the amount of energy required to produce a ton of steel by about 40%. At the same time, air and water emissions have been reduced by more than 90%.

There is virtually no wastage in the steelmaking process as even steel scrap generated in the factories is remelted to make new steel.

How are cans made and filled? Click here

For more on Steel recycling Click here


Aluminium recycling symbol

Aluminium (in UK) = Aluminum (in US)
Aluminium products are ideal for recycling. It is much cheaper to reclaim them than to make new aluminium from bauxite ore.

Recycling requires less than 5 percent of the energy originally needed to make aluminium. Twenty recycled aluminium cans can be made with the power it takes to manufacture one brand new one.The recycling process cuts out the most energy-intensive portion of aluminium manufacturing (recycling 1kg of aluminium saves 8kg of bauxite, 4kg of chemicals and 14kWh of electricity).

Recycling aluminium cans saves investors money. Building a factory to melt aluminium cans can be done in half the time and and at one-tenth the cost of the plant needed to mine and refine the bauxite needed to produce aluminium.

Recycling Glass  




Glass recycling symbol



Belgian Cross - recycling symbol commonly seen on alcoholic beverage bottles sold within EU

Recycling a glass jar saves enough energy to light a 100-watt light bulb for four hours. All glass food and beverage containers can be recycled.

Glass is one of the most difficult materials to be recycled. The major problem with glass recycling is the separation of clear and coloured glass, and so far there have been very few applications for mixed glass. Glass manufacturers require cullet that's separated by color – clear, brown (amber) or green.

Recycled glass is called cullet. It takes 2,000-3,000 bottles and jars to make a tonne of 'cullet'. To create "new" glass glass container manufacturers recycle cullet with a combination of soda ash, limestone and sand.

Cullet should meet four criteria:

  • Cullet must be separated by colour
  • Cullet must be contaminant free
  • Cullet must meet market specifications
  • Cullet must be container glass

Cullet for recycling can be contaminated by the inclusion of other glass (probably accidentally by a well-meaning consumer).

Common materials that contaminate cullet include:

  • Laboratory glass
  • Crystal and opaque drinking glasses
  • Mirrors
  • Windscreens and window glass
  • Heat-resistant ovenware (eg Pyrex®)
  • Light bulbs

Recycling Paper  







A major problem for the waste paper industry and community recyclers alike is the volatile nature of the waste paper market, notorious for its price and demand fluctuations and can vary in different parts of the country.

The demand for recycled paper products needs to be increased if progress is to be made in creating stable markets for a range of waste paper grades.

There are eleven major grades and sixty eight minor grades of waste paper. Your paper merchant will be able to advise you.

Some of the main groups are:

    Computer print-out paper
    Highest value
    White office paper
    (has to be flattened)

    Multi-grade office waste papers
    (mixed white and coloured office papers)

    Magazines and pamphlets
    Mixed papers
    (newspapers, magazines and pamphlets)


    Kraft waste
    (brown paper bags, wrapping, etc)


    Paper sacks
    (animal feed, potatoes, etc)

    Lowest value

Recycling Batteries  

Symbol on batteries containing lead (Pb) - do not dispose of in household waste

There are no Ni-Cd recycling facilities in the UK. At the present time significant quantities of these batteries need to be accumulated before it is worthwhile to arrange a shipment to another EU state for recycling/safe disposal.

The main requirements of the UK/EC battery legislation include:

  • Appropriate steps should be put in place to ensure that spent spent Ni-Cds are collected separately with a view to their recovery or disposal.
  • Efforts should be made to ensure a gradual reduction of Ni-Cds in household waste
  • Ensure that Ni-Cds and, where appropriate, appliances into which they are incorporated are marked in an appropriate manner.
  • Ni-Cds should not be incorporated into appliances unless they can be readily removed, when spent, by the consumer.

In order to encourage recycling and the establishment of further collection schemes, the UK proposes exempting the storage of upto 5 tonnes of waste Ni-Cds in a secure place.

Lead Acid
Most UK recycling drop-off centres have special provisions for accepting and storing of Lead Acid batteries. The automotive industry is the major application for the Lead Acid battery where the average life is 4 years.

The reclaiming process starts with the battery being crushed into small pieces and the separation of metallic and plastic components. The plastic is sent to a reprocessor for manufacture into new plastic products. The lead is purified and sent to battery manufacturers and other industries.

A typical lead-acid battery contains 60 to 80 percent recycled lead and plastic. Typically 90% of all automotive Lead Acid batteries are sent for recycling.

Recycling Other Stuff  


Toner and Ink-Jet Cartridges

Mobile Phones

Many stores collect 'old' spectacles for re-use in third world countries



WEEE logo

Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive

The WEEE Directive aims to increase the amount of recycling of electrical and electronic equipment. It will encourage designers to create products with recycling in mind. Eventually producers of E and E products will become responsible for meeting the costs of the collection, treatment and recovery of WEEE. By designing-in recyclability there is the opportunity to reduce costs.

A broad range of products will be covered by the Directive. The list includes household appliances, IT and telecommunications equipment, consumer equipment, lighting, electrical and electronic tools and toys, leisure and sports equipment.

It is expected that the WEEE Directive will be implemented in the EU member states by summer 2004. This proposal is to help the environment by reducing waste from households and industry.

In the UK one suggestion is to create a national centre where WEEE from local collection points can be treated and recycled. The scheme could be supported by money from manufacturers and retailers who, as producers, should take responsibility for upgrading collection sites to accept the waste.

For an easy to read summary of the WEEE Directive go here.

The Recycling Process  

The two common forms of collection are:

  • kerbside collection (where consumers place designated plastics in a special bin to be picked up by a public or private hauling company), and,
  • drop-off centers (where consumers take their recyclables to a centrally located facility).

Once collected, plastics are delivered to a recovery facility for sorting into single resin streams to increase product value. Scrap metal is similarly collected but because steel is magnetic, it can be easily retrieved from solid mixed waste efficiently and economically using powerful magnets.

This is the next step where plastics are chopped into flakes, washed to remove contaminants and sold to end users to manufacture new products such as bottles, containers, clothing, carpets, etc.

Metals (aluminium and steel) are returned to the foundry where they put into the melting process and become an integral part of the original product.

Source Reduction  

Source reduction, often called "waste prevention", is gaining more attention as an important resource conservation and waste management option. This management process aims to reduce the consumption of resources at the point of generation.

In general, source reduction activities include:

  • Redesigning products or packages so as to reduce the quantity of the materials used.
  • Reusing products or packages already manufactured.
  • Using packaging that reduces the amount of damage or spoilage to the product.
  • By substituting lighter materials for heavier ones or lengthening the life of products to postpone disposal
  • By changing any additional process or by modifying the end-use of the products or packages in such a way as to reduce material consumption.

The Mobius Loop


Mobius Loop- recyclable product
Recyclable product

When the Mobius loop is displayed without any background this indicates that the product itself is recyclable.

It does not mean that an object has been recycled, and this can sometimes be misleading.


Mobius Loop- product with recycled contentMobius Loop- 34% recycled content
with recycled content

When the Mobius loop is printed on a dark background circle, it indicates that a product has some recycled content.

A more meaningful use of the symbol is the voluntary indication of how much recyclate has been used.


The Mobius loop derives its name from August Ferdinand Mobius, a 19th century German mathematician who devised the first Mobius strip. In the process of illustrating a new mathematical equation, he created a surface with only one side by giving a half twist to a narrow, rectangular strip of paper and then pasting its two ends together.

The Mobius loop's three-arrow design symbolizes the three phases involved in recycling: the first two represent the collection of used materials and production of new products reusing these materials, and the third represents the important role of consumer awareness in creating demand for recycled products.

Caring for Our Environment


Grune Punkt - Green Dot logo
Der Grüne Punkt - The Green Dot
An alliance for sustainable packaging recycling in Europe. Up to now, 19 countries all over Europe have already introduced the Green Dot mark as a symbol to show that finance for the collection, sorting and recovery of used packaging has been made available by packaging manufacturers.

By recycling packaging, they are all making a successful contribution to sustainable development in Europe.

The UK and Canada have limited participation in this scheme.


Nordic Environmental label - Swan Label

Nordic Ecolabelling
The Swan is Ecolabel's vision of a sustainable society, in which future generations can benefit from the same conditions and opportunities as we ourselves do.

An important step towards this vision is for us all, with the help of Ecolabelling, to choose the most environmentally-friendly products.

The Swan's mission is to contribute to reducing the consumer burden on the environment. Using optional Ecolabelling, we want to guide consumers and purchasers in their desire to shop with a "green" conscience, and thus contribute to a better society.

Through Ecolabelling, Swan wants to encourage manufacturers to develop environmentally-friendly products and services.


European Eco-Flower

Helping European Consumers to distinguish GREENER, more ENVIRONMENT FRIENDLY products of HIGH QUALITY

European ECO-Label Award

Helping European Consumers to distinguish GREENER, more ENVIRONMENT FRIENDLY products of HIGH QUALITY

The European Eco-label is a voluntary scheme enabling European consumers including public and private purchasers to easily identify officially approved green products across the European Union, Norway, Liechtenstein and Iceland.

It allows producers to show and communicate to their customers that their products respect the environment.

Over the past ten years, the "Flower" has become a European-wide symbol for products, providing simple and accurate guidance to consumers. All products bearing the "Flower" have been checked by independent bodies for complying with strict ecological and performance criteria.

There are currently twenty-one different product groups, and already more than 135 licences have been awarded for several hundred products.


Degradable Plastic logo

Degradable Plastic

British company Symphony Environmental has developed a process that degrades plastics in as little as 60 days or as long as 5 - 6 years, depending on the requirements of the product. Once the process is initiated it will continue even in a landfill or under water. It degrades harmlessly within a controlled life span, leaving only H2O, CO2 and biomass in negligible quantities

Symphony Environmental's use of the technology is revolutionary, producing a brand new product that does not alter the benefits of the original material. This revolutionary scientific and technological breakthrough has profound implications for post-consumer waste, especially in relation to food packaging and its effect on the environment.

Go here for more information



Useful Links:

americanplasticscouncil.org (very informative website including history of plastics)

www.plasticsresource.com (information on plastic and the environment)

www.recoup.org (UK recycling organisation)

www.nottscc.gov.uk/home/environment/recycling/links.htm (excellent list of recycling web sites)

www.patagonia.com (clothing made from recycled plastics)

www.recycle-more.com (for more about recycling from Valpak)

http://www.recyclingglass.co.uk (promoting glass recycling in UK)

http://www.britglass.co.uk (British Glass website)

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Rev: 01-2005