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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 game-changing process for sustainable packaging. Post-consumer waste is used along with several other feedstock sources to generate identical ethylene molecules to create new batches of your current specified virgin resin.

In essence, virgin resin can now be made by using molecules derived from post-consumer waste.

Mechanical Recycling is also available; however, this process does not ensure that the resulting resin will perform the same as virgin resin. In addition, mechanically recycled material does not guarantee that the resulting resin is free from foreign materials or other contaminants.

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, resin made through Advanced Recycling 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.

The pyrolysis process is the key to obtaining ethylene molecules from post-consumer waste.

Post-consumer plastic waste and biomass are heated in a non-combustible oxygen-free pyrolysis process. This creates pyrolysis oil.

Pyrolysis oil is then processed through the same reactors as natural gas and crude oil, creating the same ethylene molecules. The ethylene molecules from all sources are then used to create the virgin resin.

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 obtain ethylene molecules through transforming post-consumer waste into a pyrolysis oil feedstock. Ethylene molecules obtained from multiple feedstocks are mixed together to create the final virgin plastic resin. Advanced Recycling continuously creates a Circular Economy.

Mechanically recycled post-consumer plastic waste can only be reprocessed a limited number of times. Mechanically recycled resin loses physical properties each time that it is processed.

The ethylene molecules needed to create polyethylene comes from multiple sources, including fossil fuels, plastic waste, and bio-mass materials. Each batch of polyethylene can vary in the amount of ethylene molecules derived from these sources.

Much like the energy grid that utilizes sustainable sources like wind and hydro, the Mass Balancing method allows Drug Plastics to purchase certificates indicating a specific amount of pounds that are being supported in this method. Customers can purchase certificates for the number of pounds they choose to support. In addition, customers can claim the use of recycled material for designated products up to the amount of certificate pounds that were purchased.

The eventual goal is that the majority of molecules, and the resultant plastic resins, are sustainably created through this Circular Economy.

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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