Recycling plastics problems and possibilities

Dump Clothes

Plastic on a dump Clothes made from recycled plastic bottles

Plastic on a dump Clothes made from recycled plastic bottles

Most plastics arc made from oil and other natural materials which will not last for ever. At the moment, we use plastic wastcfully because it is cheap to produce. We pack things in it, then we throw away the packing. In Europe and the USA, about seventy per cent of the plastic that an ordinary family throws away in its rubbish comes from packing materials.

Plastic is a wonderfully strong, long-lasting material which is very difficult to destroy. Most plastic does not decay, like wood or paper, because bacteria will not cat it. It stays the same for hundreds of years. If you throw a plastic bottle in the sea, it will land, undamaged, 011 a beach hundreds of miles away. If you burn plastic on an ordinary fire it produces slimy smoke and poisonous gases. Although some special plastics have been produced which decay, they arc expensive. It is much better to find a way of reusing or recycling plastic.

Many foods and drinks are sold in plastic bottles, boxes and pots which can be reused. They make useful containers in the kitchen, or plant pots for the garden.

Some shops encourage customers to return their plastic containers. This conserves both energy and materials. It also saves customers' money!

Recycling plastic is more difficult than reusing it, because there arc many different kinds of plastic. Some plastics melt when you heat them. Others do not. You can make these 'unmeltable' plastics into a few products - posts or garden furniture, for example - but these cannot be recycled again.

Some kinds of plastic arc recyclable if you can separate them from the other kinds of plastic. Waste polythene, which is a kind of plastic, is collected from factories and recycled into small balls which are used as packing materials and in the building industry.

In the USA there is a factory which recycles the plastic containers from 'fast food' like hamburgers and hot drinks. The plastic is washed, then melted. It is made into plant pots and other useful things. At the moment, this kind of recycling is expensive. Some people think it is better to burn the plastic to produce energy.

Ordinary people can help to recycle plastics. Some shops have 'plastic banks' where customers can leave their old plastic bags. Some shops give customers a few pence for every plastic bag that they bring back. The bags are sent to a factory, where they arc recycled.

The French drink a lot of bottled water. Now someone has found a way of recycling the plastic bottles to make sweaters. Each sweater uses twenty-seven bottles. These arc melted to produce long, thin fibres, which are then made into fabric. The sweaters will soon be in the shops, but they will not be cheap. This is because it is more expensive to recycle the bottles than to produce new man-made fabrics.

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