Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you are probably aware that less than 10% of all plastics produced globally get recycled. More than 90% end up in landfills or incinerators. And yet, there is an outlier in industrial plastic waste. A good portion of it is recycled through mechanical means. Mechanical recycling works. There is no other way to put it.
Critics of plastic recycling correctly point out that municipal recycling has been an utter failure for decades. And yet, companies like Tennessee-based Seraphim Plastics have found remarkable success in purchasing industrial scrap plastic and converting it into a recyclable material that manufacturers are ready and willing to buy.
What is Seraphim Plastics’ secret? It is not complicated. Their secret rests in a tried-and-true mechanical recycling process. It’s a process that continues to generate profits for both Seraphim Plastics and other companies that do likewise. Below are five reasons mechanical recycling works for them.
1. It Focuses on Industrial Plastics
Plastics can be divided into two fundamental categories: consumer and industrial. Consumer plastics include things like plastic takeout containers, plastic utensils, water bottles, cell phone cases, sunglasses, etc. Industrial plastics are plastics used for industrial applications.
Most companies successfully employing the mechanical method focus their efforts on industrial plastics. Why? Because industrial plastics are almost never mixed materials. That means they can be processed pretty easily.
2. Sorting Is Eliminated
For mechanical recycling to be cost-effective, companies like Seraphim Plastics need to eliminate the sorting process. Manual sorting is too cost prohibitive. So to eliminate it, they require customers to take care of it prior to pick up.
Sorting isn’t as difficult as it sounds for customers because most of them deal in just one or two types of industrial plastics. It’s not like Seraphim Plastics’ customers have recycling bins scattered around the office, filled with plastics that need to be sorted and washed.
3. The Process Itself Is Easy
The actual process of mechanical recycling is easy. It’s as simple as running industrial plastic waste through grinders or shredders to reduce its size. The resulting material is combined with virgin plastic and melted down to manufacture new plastic pieces.
Putting plastic waste through a grinder is as simple as it gets. It is no more difficult than turning yard waste into woodchips via a mechanical chipper. Producing regrind isn’t rocket science.
4. Turnaround Time Is Quick
Because mechanical recycling is so easy, turnaround time is quick. Seraphim can buy a load of plastic today, turn it into regrind tomorrow, and sell it the day after. They don’t have to tie a lot of money up in overhead and other expenses. Therefore, profits are continually being generated.
5. The Market for Regrind Is There
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the market for regrind is there. Without a market there is no reason to put the time and effort into recycling. Incidentally, this explains why municipal recycling is such a big failure. The market for recycled consumer plastics is virtually nonexistent. Municipal programs crash and burn because they cannot generate enough money to cover their expenses.
Another thing to consider in terms of the regrind market is that demand for recycled industrial plastic goes up commensurate with oil prices. Virgin plastic is a petroleum product, so it costs more when oil prices are higher. Companies compensate by purchasing more regrind.
Mechanical plastic recycling might be simple; it might even be rudimentary compared to more complicated recycling strategies. But the fact remains that it works. If it didn’t, Seraphim Plastics and their competitors wouldn’t be working so hard to gain a larger market share.