When it comes to food-use plastics, there are a lot of misconceptions about what can and cannot be done with them.
One of the most common misconceptions is whether or not HDPE (high-density polyethylene) is recyclable.
This is a very common misconception because HDPE can be recycled, but only in certain forms.
What is HDPE?
HDPE is a polymer that stands for high-density polyethylene.
It’s one of the most common plastics used for making bottles, containers and another packaging.
HDPE is made from crude oil and natural gas, which are then processed to remove impurities.
The resulting material is heated until it becomes liquid, cooled down and shaped into pellets.
After this process, HDPE can be moulded into various shapes to manufacture buckets, shipping pallets and milk jugs.
In order to meet recycling standards, HDPE must be clean, uncontaminated by other types of plastic or metal, and free of certain additives such as pigments and dyes.
HDPE products contaminated during manufacturing are not recyclable because they cannot be separated from other materials during reprocessing.
The HDPE Recycling Process
The recycling process for HDPE is slightly different than PET and PVC.
Since HDPE is not a “closed” system, like PET and PVC, it must be cleaned before recycling.
The plastic is collected in bins and then sent to a processing plant.
At the plant, the HDPE is first sorted into different colours in order to separate the different types of plastic.
Once completed, the plastic is shredded into small pieces less than one inch long.
The shreds are then melted down at high temperatures in an extruder machine that uses air pressure to force the molten material through tiny holes that push it against a metal screen or mesh.
This creates fibres of plastic that can then be used to make new products.
Recycling HDPE Into New Products
HDPE plastic can be recycled into a wide variety of products that are used every day in our homes and offices:
HDPE plastic lumber is a popular alternative to wood.
It’s durable and resists rot and insect damage.
Recycling bins made from HDPE are lightweight but strong.
They’re easy to transport and can be reused many times before they need to be replaced.
HDPE pipes are used for carrying water, sewage and other liquids under pressure.
They’re also used for natural gas distribution systems and underground telephone cables.
Some companies shred HDPE crates and use them to make new ones.
These crates are sometimes made with as much as 75 per cent recycled material.
The rest of the material comes from virgin resin, which is often made from natural gas.
These bottles are usually collected from curbside bins or redemption centres, where you get money if you turn them in instead of throwing them away.
They’re then sorted by colour and size to be processed for recycling at an HDPE plant.
The plant melts down the bottles and turns them into pellets that can be remoulded into new bottles or products that require similar materials — like food containers and toys.
Hardscape materials, flower pots, and gardening tools
All of these products can be recycled into new ones using a two-stage process.
First, the material is shredded into small pieces and melted at high temperatures in a furnace.
Then it is extruded into thin sheets of film that can create new products such as clothing or plastic bags.
Sheeting and filming plastic
These plastics are also recycled using two stages but with different equipment than those used for hardscape materials.
First, the material is heated to about 500 degrees Fahrenheit, then cooled down slowly so that it becomes soft enough to stretch into thin sheets or film rolls.
These sheets are cut into smaller sections and formed into new products like grocery bags or trash cans.
The Environmental Benefits of Recycling HDPE
While recycling is essential for the environment, there are many reasons why it is crucial to recycle HDPE.
- Reduce landfill waste.
- Protect our oceans from plastic pollution.
- Prevent soil contamination from leaching into the groundwater supply.
- Keep energy in the ground and out of our atmosphere by preventing deforestation, which releases carbon dioxide into the air.
- HDPE is recyclable at almost any collection site in your area, including grocery stores, retail locations and drop-off centres. The process of recycling HDPE is simple and straightforward, and it’s great for the environment!
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), HDPE can be recycled into products such as park benches, playground equipment and plastic lumber.
Some HDPE may also be used for asphalt pavement or moulded into moulds for cement outdoor furniture.
HDPE can be recycled if it is not contaminated with other plastics or food residue.
It can’t be recycled if it has food residue because this would pollute other batches during processing.
If you’re unsure whether your HDPE container is safe, check with your local recycling service provider.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some frequently asked questions about HDPE:
How Many Times Can HDPE Be Recycled?
Scientists prove HDPE can be recycled at least ten times.
The number of times a material can be recycled is called its “life cycle.” To lower your carbon footprint, consider buying products made from easily recycled materials, like HDPE.
Is HDPE Weather Resistant?
Yes, HDPE is weather-resistant and It will not crack or split like other plastics at high and low temperatures.
HDPE is also more resistant to chemicals and has a lower melting point than PVC.
Is HDPE The Same As PVC?
No, HDPE is a different type of plastic than PVC.
They are both made from petroleum, but they are different types of plastic with different properties and applications.
HDPE recycling programs have been in place for a while, but not everyone knows.
The good news is that HDPE is one of the easier plastics to recycle, and many facilities will conveniently shred it for you when you take it to them.
The more awareness we raise about this material, the easier it will be for us to reuse it.