Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Theromoform plastics, what are they and why are we talking about them?

PET plasticThat clear plastic packaging for your berries, salad greens, cosmetics, toys, and clamshell to-go containers, is called thermoform plastic and its name comes from the way that it’s made.

Thermoforming is a molding technique that results in a variety of highly usable plastic products. While thermoforming can apply to a variety of different plastics, we most often come across it in the form of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) which is labeled as #1 plastic. This is the tricky part:

Even though they are labeled as #1 plastic, they still may not be readily recycled in your local municipality’s recycling program and can lead to contamination of recyclable materials.

Why are PET thermoplastics not (readily) recyclable with other PET plastic bottles?

In short, PET thermoforms behave differently than bottles as a result of some basic properties of the thermoform material.

Currently, in the recycling markets across the US and Canada, there is a 5-10% thermoform threshold in place. This means that for every bale of recyclable plastic, depending on the buyer, only 5-10% of it can be thermoform plastics. If the amount of thermoforms goes beyond this number, the bale is at risk of being discarded instead of moving along in the process to continue being recycled.

“Know Before You Throw” and check your local recycling guidelines to find out if PET thermoplastics are accepted in your local recycling program.

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Information attributed to NYSDEC is taken from press releases and news announcements from New York State's Department of Environmental Conservation.

9 Responses

  1. Zephyr says:

    One of the biggest things that could be done to improve recycling is to improve messaging and information. I have called numerous local officials many times for answers, and sometimes they do not know the answer or else they tell me to take the item off to a distant center in another town or county. Some things are simply not recyclable, yet you are also not allowed to dump them. Ask any normal person a question and nobody knows, and if they do know they probably have it wrong.

  2. Jack Soffalot says:

    I must agree with Z, recycling can be a challenge at times!

  3. Bill Ott says:

    I just wonder how the recycling people know that a bale of plastic has too much thermoform material in it. Perhaps I should apply for that job.

  4. Tim says:

    Maybe that explains why our landfill will take #1 and #2 bottles but not food containers. Thanks for clarifying.

  5. nathan says:

    The real issue is we need to separate plastics into about 9-12 different containers to keep them cheap and easier to recycle. but getting people to keep a dozen bins to sort and recycle is not likely by most Americans. like most Americans refuse to recycle mercury containing fluorescent bulbs, rechargeable batteries or electronics. Most people just don’t care enough.

  6. Boreas says:

    This is a Petrochemical Industry and GOVERNMENT problem, not a consumer problem! Petrochemical companies have always pushed the responsibility of recycling their hazardous products onto the CONSUMER, who didn’t ask for them. Petrochemical companies have no real incentive to ensure their “recyclables” are even recyclable.

    If petrochemicals (plastics) are not easily recyclable or degradable, shouldn’t they be limited or banned? If hazardous materials like batteries, electronics, liquids are not easily recycled or able to be disposed of, isn’t that a local government problem? Obviously, the more difficult it is to recycle something, the less likely it will be properly disposed of. The entire “recycling” process is a mess and needs to be addressed by Congress – that is when petrochemical money is extricated from their pockets.

  7. Bill Ott says:

    I am now exploring the Tennessee Valley Authority. Like the Adks, the center of all life down here is water. The water here is in rivers that are dammed to make electricity. There is water everywhere. But just like the Adks, one can go into any store and buy water. It comes in plastic bottles. If thirsty, one consumes that water in perhaps 10 minutes. The bottle will decay within 450 years in a landfill. So I can just drink a bottle of water and by not recycling it leave a legacy 2.4 million times the length of time it took me to drink it. Why write a book?

  8. Zephyr says:

    Where I live there is single-stream recycling and I can put #1-7 plastic in the same can, along with all the other stuff like glass, newspapers, cans, etc. I have no idea what the company does with all the stuff after they pick it up, but I have assumed they actually sort it out later somehow. When I lived in another state recycling at the transfer station was an arduous process of sorting all my trash into different containers. It was literally an hour or more sometimes because of the back up waiting for the folks ahead of you to sort out all their stuff.

    • Bill Ott says:

      I saw a video on the sorting. A magnet gets the steel, air blows the paper, and some other items are sorted other ways, and humans man (or woman) the line.