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Until recently, mechanical recycling has been the only way to recycle plastic waste into reusable plastic resin.

In this process, plastic waste is sorted, washed, shredded, and heated back into plastic resin pellets.

Not all plastic waste is compatible and there is a risk that not all contaminants are removed. Color may vary by batch because pigmentation is not removed.

Today, fossil fuels, like oil and natural gas, are used to create the primary feedstocks for plastic resin production.

These feedstocks, or specific chemical ingredients, are converted into plastic resin through chemical reactions.

For polyethylene production, the feedstock is a two carbon molecule called ethylene.

Plastic resins are made of polymers: molecules containing many repeating carbon units.

The plastic resin manufacturing process first subjects natural gas and petroleum feedstocks to “cracking“ – a heat-intensive process which purifies ethane and changes it to ethylene.

The ethylene is then subjected to chemical reactions which grow the number of carbon atoms until the correct length polyethylene polymer is formed.

Sustainable crops, like sugarcane and corn, can be used to create ethanol which can serve as a feedstock for bioplastics.

Polyethylene resin made from sustainable crops is chemically and physically identical to fossil fuel-based plastic resin, since the feedstock both sources supply produce the exact same virgin resin.

Bioplastic resin made from sustainable materials has a lower environmental impact than plastic resin made from fossil fuels.

Advanced recycling is a relatively new game-changing process for sustainable packaging. It converts plastic waste into virgin plastic resin.

This process chemically alters the plastic waste during processing and removes all contaminants and pigmentation impurities.

Unlike mechanical recycling, this technology allows hydrocarbons to be recovered from plastic waste that has previously been difficult or even impossible to recycle.

Mechanical recycling is a downward spiral: each time plastic waste is mechanically recycled its quality is degraded.

At some point, mechanically recycled plastic waste will end up in a landfill or be incinerated.

On the other hand, advanced recycled plastic is an infinite loop: plastic waste can be processed over and over again without any reduction in physical properties. This is the definition of sustainable.

Pyrolysis oil is the key to making virgin polyethylene through advanced recycling.

When plastic waste feedstocks are heated without oxygen during the pyrolysis process, they do not burn. Instead, they breakdown into a variety of simpler hydrocarbons.

Controlling process conditions, such as temperature and pressure, affects the type and mix of the resulting hydrocarbons.

This graph summarizes the four polyethylene resin production processes including the traditional way virgin resin is produced from fossil fuels, and the way virgin resin is produced using bio-based sustainable resources.

Advanced recycling is the emerging sustainable method to produce virgin polyethylene resin by transforming plastic waste into a pyrolysis oil feedstock.

Lastly, mechanically recycled plastic waste can be reprocessed a limited number of times.

Mass Balancing is an accounting method that can accurately and consistently determine the bio-based or recycled content of any batch of plastic resin.

Mass Balancing allows customers to know what percentage of each batch of plastic resin comes from advanced recycled or bio-based feedstocks.

For each batch of resin that is sold, the purchaser of the resin receives both a certificate of assurance and credits from a third-party certification entity.

Want to learn more about advanced recycling, mass balancing, and sustainable packaging? Read our in-depth article for more details on how to positively impact the environment, lessen reliance on fossil fuels, and reduce the amount of plastic waste that goes into landfills around the world.

Contact Us to Learn More About Our Sustainable Plastic Packaging Solutions

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