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October 28, 2020
What is Mechanical Recycling?
Plastic flakes formed by shredding recycled plastic bottles, part of the process of mechanical recycling of plastics.
Plastic flakes formed by shredding recycled plastic bottles, part of the process of mechanical recycling of plastics.

What is Mechanical Recycling?

Mechanical recycling of plastic transforms materials into “new” secondary raw materials without changing the base molecular structure of the material. For example, after sorting and processing, plastic is shredded and then melted down and then re-extruded into plastic pellets. These pellets are then used in new polyester fibers or other products. No chemicals are used in this method and it is the simplest form of recycling plastic.

Recycling Process

The first step in the mechanical recycling process is collecting the used plastic and delivering it to a recycling center so it does not end up in a landfill, on the roadside or tossed in the natural environment. Households and businesses can get the cycle started by providing separate bins for garbage and recycling and making sure the recycling is not contaminated by garbage. Plastic containers should be rinsed before they are thrown in the bin, but paper labels do not need to be removed. Lids should be removed and thrown in the garbage.

The next step takes place at a recycling center.  Optical scanners are used to identify different types of plastic resin, which are categorized by number, and plastics are sorted and separated from each other and other materials such as paper and glass. The used #1 and #2 plastic bottles and containers are then crushed (where caps are removed if any are remaining) and baled to be sent to a plastic recycling center.

Sorting plastic bottles for recycling PET
A worker sorts plastic PET bottles for recycling

Recyclers then shred the plastic into flakes, which are washed, rinsed and dried. The clean flakes are then melted into pellets. Manufacturers then use the pellets to make new plastic bottles, or other items. Or fiber producers, including SAYA, will melt and spin the pellets to make fiber which is then knit or woven into fabric for apparel, luggage or industrial uses.

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