Is all recycled plastic created equal? The short answer is no!
Recycled plastics fall into two key categories; pre-consumer and post-consumer, but first, let’s talk virgin …
Virgin plastic is plastic that has never been used or recycled before. Petroleum is mined from the earth, ‘cracked’ and made into pure, untainted, ‘virgin’ plastic.
Pre-consumer (aka Post Industrial) Recycled Plastic
When that virgin plastic is formed into products, there’s always going to be some waste. Pre-consumer Recycled Plastic (also known as Post Industrial Recycled plastic) is the off-cuts, scraps that result from that process. Many would say it isn’t really recycled as it hasn’t truly been used before. It’s also not difficult to collect, usually very ‘clean’ and not mixed with other types/grades of plastic and quick and easy to transport between facilities. Therefore it’s relatively easy and cheap! A word of caution. As the demand for recycled plastic rises, some manufacturers are deliberately creating Post Industrial Plastic waste so that they can then ‘recycle’ it.
TIP #1: If a product just says on it, “Made from recycled plastic”, it’s always worth checking what type of recycled plastic it is. Just by asking the question, you make producers aware that you know the difference and expect them to do more! Consumer demand is when real change happens.
Post-Consumer Recycled Plastic
If you have a choice, always go for Post Consumer Recycled Plastic if you can. Post Consumer Recycled Plastic is plastic that has been through the hands of the consumer. It’s your coke bottle, your yoghurt container or biscuit tray… This plastic can be collected in curbside recycling and then goes to a depot to be cleaned and sorted into grades for recycling. It takes time and resources to recycle. It’s a lot harder to create than Post Industrial Recycled plastic, that’s for sure. Companies using Post Consumer Recycled plastic in their products should be commended.
Ocean Bound Plastic
A sub-category of Post Consumer Recycled plastics is Ocean Bound Plastic. This is plastic collected in regions of the world with very little waste management infrastructure. There’s certainly no curbside recycling! Instead, collectors from these coastal communities scour beaches, drains and riverways for plastic pollution. This plastic is often very dirty, hard to sort, and in a bad way after years of exposure to the elements making it brittle and hard. It’s another level again. Recycling this plastic is super-tough and companies using this in their products should be given gold stars!
TIP #2: Always look for what percentage of recycled plastic something contains too. Anything is better than nothing, but if you have a choice, always gravitate to the one with a higher percentage
Even better again, are products that contain plastics retrieved from the ocean itself. These are extremely diffciult to recycle as the quality of the plastic has usually deteriorated a significant amount. That said, it's not impossible, but when they are able to be used, it's usually in only as a small percentage of the overall product. A great example is Microsoft's new Ocean Plastic Mouse which is made from 20% plastic recovered from the ocean.