How to separate plastic at the source

August 24, 2021

Many of us are aware what it means to recycle plastics, but what a lot of us don’t know is how to separate plastics at the source in order to recycle plastics responsibly.  Plastic is an economic resource that should remain out of the environment and landfills and should be recovered for maximum use in the circular economy. One of the biggest challenges facing recycling initiatives is the contamination of high-value materials with food and organic waste, and other contaminants. This happens when waste is mixed and not efficiently separated at the source.  By separating at the source, we set aside dry recyclable waste like plastic, paper, glass, and cans, as well as garden waste for the purpose of re-using, re-purposing, and recycling to prevent recyclables from becoming contaminated.  A lot of methods within the recycling system are centred around source separation, which means sorting your waste by material type before it is processed. But why is this so important?

LET’S BEGIN WITH THE BASICS: Firstly, by separating plastics at the source, we are recycling plastic that can be turned into new and usable products and reducing the need for raw materials in the manufacturing process to be made.  These methods are centred around sorting your waste by the material type before it is processed. Because some plastics cannot be recycled but can be re-used or re-purposed, we separate plastics at the source to prevent recyclables ending up in the environment or landfills where high-value materials are lost due to contamination.

WHY DO WE SEPARATE AT THE SOURCE? It reduces contamination: when waste is separated, recyclables won’t become contaminated. Because different plastics are recycled in different recycling facilities and some plastics can or cannot be recycled, one non-recyclable item can contaminate an entire collection of recyclable products, and so it ends up in landfills.

It maintains resource integrity: when reducing and sorting recyclables, we are able to maintain the integrity of the materials and reduce what is called downcycling. Downcycling is a process where recycled materials cannot be used for similar products of the same quality. This means that the amount of time the materials may be able to stay in use is reduced and may end up in landfills sooner.

It helps to identify plastic problem materials: we are all guilty of seeing non-recyclable items in recyclable plastic bins. Sometimes, we don’t know whether these items can be recycled, so we think we’re doing good. By being able to identify plastics that cannot be recycled, we are given the opportunity to address the problem ourselves.

It helps to contribute to the circular economy: The circular economy aims to keep plastic materials in use for as long as they can be. By separating the plastic by its source, you are keeping these materials in use, and sending them back in for processing to be turned into new products.

It prevents recyclable items from going into landfills: when we are working towards a thriving, circular economy, and separating waste at the source, it means that less waste will end up in landfills. Separating is knowing where to place their recyclables. Thus, ensuring that fewer recyclable plastics are sent to landfills due to contamination of other non-recyclable waste.

HOW TO SEPARATE AT THE SOURCE? When we separate different recyclable materials at the source, it means that we are sorting plastics, glass, metal (food and drink cans), paper into separate bins so that they can be recycled and not contaminated by general waste.  To separate at the source in your home, you will need to ensure that you have two bins: one bin that is marked “Recyclables” and another bin that is marked “Other waste”.  Items that should be put into the “Recyclables” bin include:

  • Plastics like water bottles, cold drink bottles and containers.
  • Paper, including cardboard, newspapers, and magazines.
  • Glass jars, bottles, and containers.
  • Metal like cold drinks or food cans.

When recycling, it is advised to empty all contents and rinse them, like bottles and jars. Flatten plastics, paper containers or boxes, and ensure that glass bottles aren’t broken.  Remember to research what is and isn’t recyclable in your area. If you would like to get involved in a separation at source programme, or become more informed on this subject, find out more at – a SAS organisation, that would be happy to give you advice and help separate your plastic waste.

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Author: Let's Plastic Responsibly
Title: How to separate plastic at source

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