What’s the difference between the plastic film around a package of chicken breasts and that found around a package of beef steaks? Believe it or not, these are likely two different kinds of plastic, requiring different recycling methods. Here are some facts about plastic film recycling that could help your company better understand and improve its waste and recycling processes.
Film is a catchall term used to describe flexible materials that are usually less than 10 mil thick. It does not define a specific chemical makeup or recycling commodity. For instance, while the plastic wrap found around packages of chicken breasts and beef steaks may look very similar (and seemingly serve the same purpose) the former is usually made from a type of Polyethylene (such as LDPE), while the latter is likely a type of Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC). These are two different types of plastic resin, and have different properties. For instance, the permeability of PVC allows oxygen through, which is desirable for keeping red meat (like steak) looking fresh. This permeability is a less desirable trait for packaging poultry.
You can read more about the importance of sorting by resin type for plastic film recycling by reading our past article, Sorting Plastic for Industrial Recycling. But in short, each plastic resin has its own characteristics (such as strength, permeability, and flexibility) that affect how a product can be used. Therefore, when recycling plastic film, you may get a higher value from keeping different resins separate from each other. Here are a few examples of resin categories and some film products made from these materials:
Polyethylene (PE) Film: PE comes in low density (LDPE), linear low density (LLDPE), medium density (MDPE) and high density (HDPE) forms. These different plastic films often are used for food packaging, stretch and shrink wrap, cereal bags and box liners, trash and grocery bags, and bubble wrap.
Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) Film: The semi permeable nature of PVC allows just enough oxygen through to keep red meat (like beef) fresh and maintaining a bright red color. Aside from this, PVC is less commonly used in food packaging films, but often is found in labels and medical equipment (such as blood and I.V. bags).
Polypropylene (PP) Film: Because of this plastic’s high moisture barrier, it often is used as film for cheese packaging, sanitary products, and some snack food packaging.
Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET) Film: Like PVC, PET is found mostly in non-food, non-packaging applications. For instance, it is used to make photographic and x-ray films. However, PET is used for metalized film, such as potato chips or microwave packaging.
These are just a few of the more common resin examples used for different types of film. Understanding the types of plastic film your company produces in its waste stream can help in determining how to recycle this material.
Aside from resin type, factors such as clarity, wetness, and contamination levels can all affect the value, or grade, of your plastic film. For instance, clear film usually is priced higher than colored or opaque film. This is because, while clear film may be used to make colored film, it is difficult to do the reverse. Similarly, moisture content or the presence of contaminants such as food waste, metal, paper, and even other plastic types can reduce the value of your plastic film recycling.
Examples of Film Grades: LDPE film is a common waste item at manufacturing and distribution centers. Here are some examples of frequently accepted grade specifications for LDPE film:
It’s important to note that recycling markets vary over time and by geography. The best method for getting the highest value from your plastic film recycling is to work with your recycling service provider to analyze your entire waste and recycling stream to determine the best methods for collecting and sorting materials.
Regardless of what resins or grades of film are in your waste stream, some best practices for plastic film recycling include the following:
We hope you found these film facts interesting and helpful. For additional resources on plastic recycling best practices, contact us today or check out one of our past related articles listed below.
***Feature Image Credit/Copyright Attribution: “Billion Photos/Shutterstock”