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Why Are Certain Types of Plastics More Difficult To Recycle Than Others?

Plastic waste is a considerable concern for the environment and public health. What's more, plastic is generally more difficult to recycle than other materials — a problem that Blackrock Plastics works hard to solve.

Thermoplastic vs. Thermoset

All plastics are not created equal. They can be categorized into thermoplastics and thermosets. Thermoplastics can be melted and reshaped, but thermosets can't — no matter how much heat is applied.

Many materials used in construction and the automobile industries are thermoset plastics, which are chemically different from thermoplastics. Thermoset plastics contain cross-linked polymers. Those polymers form atomic bonds that are incredibly difficult to break down. By contrast, thermoplastics contain linear polymers, which present a weaker molecular structure and more malleable final products.

No. 1 Through No. 7

Just because a plastic item has little numbers on the bottom doesn’t guarantee its reusability. Those numbers denote that the container is made from a specific type of plastic.

Plastics are categorized by specific Resin Identification Codes (RIC), and each code or number equates to a different chemical. Those marked by the number one, such as basic soda and water bottles, are the easiest to recycle. By comparison, number three plastics are typically PVCs or vinyl, which are highly toxic when heated and usually present very low plastic recycling potential.

Other Considerations

Many common plastic items — most notably those used as food and beverage containers — are contaminated. Plastics must be cleaned and free of food residue to be recycled. For example, many packaging items — like to-go coffee cups — are considered mixed material, meaning there are two distinct substances combined in their production (in this case, a paper exterior and an inner plastic film). It’s often impossible to separate these different materials by hand.

Market Potential

We’ve covered how plastics can differ based on resins, chemical bonds, and contamination, but there’s an overarching market factor as well. Some plastics are more difficult to recycle because there simply isn’t economic demand. In some cases, the cost of shipping outweighs the value of the recycled material. Other times, there just isn't sufficient local investment in the technology required to break the plastics down into something usable.

How Blackrock Plastics Can Help

Whether the issue involves resin codes or market value, Blackrock Plastics can help. We offer expertise on the recycling potential of industrial plastic waste and help connect suppliers to buyers. We have convenient locations and dedicated staff members to troubleshoot with clients. We can even handle all those numerals and abbreviations, including PVC, PET, PP, PMMA, HDPE, LDPE, and other common industrial materials. Ultimately, by improving the network of plastic waste and its buyers, we're helping to decrease the overall plastic footprint on the planet. Ready to be a part of the solution? If you're a buyer or seller of plastic scrap, call us at +1 (843) 410-0326 or email

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