Plastic Recycling Ireland: Why Is It Important?

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The types of plastic recycling Ireland can handle has changed significantly in recent years, from only the basic bottles and packaging trays to bioplastics and films. If you aren’t up to date on how you should recycle your plastic or are looking for further information on a specific type of plastic, then this short article is then let's get started.

Why is plastic recycling important?

It is estimated that in 2019, each person in Ireland generated approximately 65kg of plastic waste, almost double that of our European counterparts. Out of this plastic volume, on average 39% is recycled, 39% is incinerated, and 31% goes to landfills. Roughly 50% of all plastic produced in Ireland is single-use, meaning that once it has fulfilled its primary function, it cannot be recycled or used again.

That may be a lot of data to wrap your head around, but it helps to understand the sheer scale of plastic use, and where there is room for improvement.

You might wonder why this is important to you, or why you should do anything more than you currently are. Well, here are a few reasons for you:

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  1. If plastics or microplastics enter the ecosystem, these can then be ingested by animals, harming them in the process, while also potentially contaminating our own food sources
  2. The majority of plastic packaging materials are produced using non-renewable sources, such as petroleum, coal, and natural gas, contaminating the environment through their manufacturing
  3. When plastic breaks down, the toxic materials used to produce them are released, causing pollution
  4. Plastic can take anywhere from 20 to 500 years to break down
  5. Improper use of recycling bins can result in fixed fines for households

Plastic recycling Ireland

The types of plastic recycling Ireland handles has advanced significantly in recent years, particularly in its ability to handle and process an ever wider variety of materials. Traditionally, soft plastics such as packaging, and cling-film were very difficult to reuse due to the types of materials that they were manufactured with. Now, however, MRFs (Material Recovery Facilities) along with general industrial advancements have progressed enough to be able to sort these materials, and put them to further use.

This means that along with plastic bottles and other such common recyclables, you are now able to put a much wider variety of materials in your recycling bin. The only current exceptions to the rule are hard plastics, PVC and Polystyrene. For items of these materials, it is advised to check your local authorities' website for recycling or amenity centres that accept these items.

Check out the examples below to understand further what plastic recycling Ireland allows in your household bins.

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  • Bottles and bottle caps
  • Yoghurt pots, tubs and lids
  • Shampoo and shower gel bottles
  • Detergent bottles
  • Rigid plastics (food packaging, flexible fruit trays etc)
  • Soft plastics (crisp packets, plastic film etc)
  • Soiled and dirty plastics
  • Hard plastics, Polystyrene, PVC
  • Polystyrene (is recyclable, but only in recycling and civic centres, not household bins)

Please remember that all recycling bin contents must be clean, washed (If soiled or with residue), dry and loose. Soiled or wet contents are not able to be processed, resulting in redirection to landfills.

How to avoid buying plastics

One of the simplest ways to lower the amount of plastic recycling Ireland has to handle is to avoid purchasing products that have unnecessary amounts of packaging or plastic. Instead, if possible purchasing products with cardboard packaging would be preferable, due to cardboard being a much less harmful material, and which can be universally recycled.

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Before you get to the checkout, purchase a bag-for-life or similar reusable items such as a personal trolly. Plastic bags from shopping are one of the biggest culprits of pollution across our landscape, and easily escape the processing sites or dumps to which they are destined. Plastic bags are also a large contributor to the volume of overall plastic production, so avoiding adding to that demand will help to lower the overall plastic in our society while saving you money on your shopping.

Similarly when we are out and about, if a caffeine fix is a part of your routine, why not bring a reusable cup with you? Many cafes encourage the use of such items and even knock a few cents off the price of your brew due to them also saving money on disposable cups. While you are there, avoid using plastic stirrers or straws, as these are another huge contributor to pollution, and often end up in our oceans.

If purchasing plastic is unavoidable, check that the type of plastic you have in mind is recyclable. This is usually represented by a symbol called “The Mobius Loop” - three green arrows forming a triangular loop. Items with this logo are safe to recycle and may have even been made out of recycled materials in their previous lifecycle.

What types of plastic can be recycled?

As we have mentioned above, ideally, identifying the Mobius Loop on your plastic recycling will be enough to identify that it is a form of plastic recycling Ireland is happy to recycle. There are however some instances where this insignia may not be present or clear. In which case, how can you identify if the plastic is safe to be recycled, and how can you be sure that you are managing your waste correctly?

There are six main forms of plastic being used in the world at the moment, most of which are recyclable, but some however are not. Here is the shortlist of the common plastic recycling Ireland encourages residents to undertake at home.

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  • PET - Polyethylene terephthalate. The most common plastic, used in bottles, clothes, carpets, laptops and phones
  • HDPE - High-density polyethylene. Used in film packaging, bottles and non-food applications
  • LDPE - Low-density polyethylene. Used in plastic bags, bin liners, packaging film etc
  • PP - Polypropylene. Used in packaging and industrial applications
  • PS - Polystyrene. Used in item packaging
  • PVC - Polyvinyl chloride. Used in window frames, pipes, flooring etc

Although PS and PVC cannot enter your home's plastic recycling bins, it is possible for them to still be recycled by taking them to specialized recycling centres. Remember to call your centre in advance to check if they have the capacity to handle these materials.

Biodegradable plastics

Biodegradable plastics are a new form of plastic created with the use of organic polymers such as cellulose, starch, hemicellulose and other more natural materials. As the materials used in its creation come from natural and renewable sources, this significantly reduces its carbon footprint, while allowing it to degrade at a significantly accelerated rate.

This means that if your biodegradable plastic product does enter the landfill system, it will degrade far faster, and emit far fewer harmful pollutants. Additionally, it is possible for biodegradable plastics to be recycled. However, due to the technological requirements required to identify, sort, and assess its current degradation state being quite complex, not all facilities are yet capable of this.

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