Polypropylene is a type of plastic that is very popular in most household plastic products. If you look around your home, you will find plastic containers with the symbol ♷ which means POLYPROPYLENE (PP) code 5. Yogurt containers, medicine bottles, spatulas, lotion bottles, ink cartridges — all are products manufactured using polypropylene. In fact, polypropylene is the single most popular plastic packaging material in the United States.
The good news is, polypropylene is a durable plastic that can be recycled over and over.
Unfortunately, only about 9-11% of plastics that are thrown away in the United States actually go on to be recycled. The sad reality is that even though most plastics are recyclable, the vast majority end up in landfills or worse. Have you ever walked along a beautiful beach only to come across plastic water bottles, soda bottles, and other plastic waste?
Polypropylene plastic products degrade slowly in landfills and can take between 20-30 years to completely decompose. Thankfully there is an environmentally-friendly solution – recycling polypropylene.
Recently, more and more eco-conscious companies are taking advantage of materials that would otherwise be polluting our planet. Everything from water bottles, to car seats, to even broken toys are being used by innovative companies to create consumer-ready products that give discarded plastics a second life.
And recycled polypropylene is leading the charge!
So, how is polypropylene recycled?
The characteristics of polypropylene that make it such a popular choice for manufacturing — its durability and resistance to degradation – make it the perfect choice for manufacturing recycled goods.
Recycling polypropylene has five main steps.
Step 1: Collection
The first step in the recycling process is collecting the plastic that can be recycled. This step is reliant of the public to deposit their recyclable materials in the correct locations so that these can be collected and brought to a sorting facility. Any recyclable materials (whether plastic, paper, metal, or glass) that is thrown away with common waste will not be recycled.
Step 2: Sorting
The second step in the recycling process is sorting the plastics that have been collected. Polypropylene plastics – identification code 5 – are separated from other plastics in this step.
Step 3: Cleaning
Before the polypropylene waste can be further processed, it must washed to remove any impurities and anything not made from plastic. Labels, adhesives, and food residue must be removed in order to have a pure, final product for recycling. To assist the process give your plastics a quick rinse before placing them in the recycle bins.
Step 4: Melting/Reprocessing
In this step, the clean polypropylene products are fed into an extruder which melts the products at a temperature of 2400 degrees C, and then cut into small pellets. The pellets are cooled and bagged – ready for the final step of recycling.
Step 5: Production of new products
Producing new products with the recycled polypropylene pellets involves the step of adding dyes to the pellets (the colors needed for the new product’s design) and then melting these down together and mixing thoroughly. From there the polypropylene can be molded into any number of products such as plastic lumber, kitchen utensils, outdoor rugs (like Mountain Mat!) and more.
Learn More: Manufacturing a Mountain Mat – Recycled Plastic Outdoor Rugs