28 May 2021 //
LDPE Plastic Recycling Process
Polyethylene (PE) recycling has improved over the years, thanks to several U.S.-based companies that have stepped up to develop new processes and programs. That evolution in recycling is likely to become more and more valuable in the years to come, considering the polyethylene market has been steadily growing throughout the last decade and is expected to continue rising.
We’re all aware of the dangers of plastics in the environment, but one of those popular PEs, low-density polyethylene (LDPE), is an excellent candidate for recycling. Let’s take a closer look at how it gets recycled and what it can do for you.
How Does the LDPE Plastic Recycling Process Work?
To be recycled, plastic film must be separated based on density — between high-density polyethylene (HDPE) and low-density polyethylene — and colored or printed film. Film that is not separated can greatly affect the value of the items produced with the recycled plastic. Colored or printed film and clear film go to different processing streams to avoid contaminating each others’ streams, which would greatly reduce the value of the end product.
Other items that need separating are films with labels and clean films. In the U.S., technology is available to clean labeled films before they move on in the recycling process. That means more film can be recycled on U.S. soil instead of being shipped overseas.
After being separated, LDPE film gets shredded into flakes with grinders. Once in flake form, the plastic gets cleaned to remove dirt, contaminants and other debris. The cleaned flakes are then dried, melted and turned into pellets for ease of handling.
Recycled LDPE can be combined with virgin LDPE material or used on its own to create new end-products. Recycled LDPE is often used to produce piping, sheeting, films and trash bags for composite lumber, building and agricultural applications and other products. Recycled HDPE, on the other hand, is usually used for composite lumber and plastic bags.
Many factors can affect recycled plastic’s value, resulting in different grades of LDPE film, many of which can also be made into or use linear low-density polyethylene (LLDPE) film, which has different structural properties:
- Premium: Premium film is made with 100% clean, dry, clear, post-industrial material made with LLDPE or LDPE film.
- A: Grade A LDPE film is 95% clean, clear, dry and natural, with very little contamination allowed from sources like labels and coloring.
- B: Grade B film is 80% clear, with a 20% allowance for colored, clean, natural LDPE or LLDPE film.
- C: The lowest grade of recycled film is made with just 50% clear, 50% color, dry LLDPE or LDPE film. HDPE and polypropylene (PP) films are permissible.
There are other grades, too, such as A+, and ones based on the film’s source, like a materials recovery facility (MRF), farm or grocery store return program.
Download our packaging system upgrade worksheet here to learn how to start planning a new system for your line.
What Is LDPE Recycled Into?
After recycling LDPE film, it can be used to create a variety of plastic items, such as:
- Composite lumber
- Trash bags and liners
- Trash and compost bins
- Shipping envelopes
What Are the Benefits of Recycling LDPE?
Beyond reducing waste and creating a cleaner world, there are practical benefits for companies that make the effort to recycle LDPE film:
- Reducing waste costs: When you recycle your LDPE, you’re taking it out of the trash stream and reducing the volume of waste that gets taken away from your facility. This usually means less trash that would bring up your waste collection bill. Many recycling companies will help set up and organize a recycling program at your facility and pay you for the used LDPE film.
- Requiring fewer pickups: Waste film takes up less space than waste corrugate, meaning less frequent deliveries and recycling pickups and therefore less gas consumed — another bonus for the planet.
- Reducing energy demand: Because LDPE is derived from natural gases, it uses less energy to produce and recycle compared to corrugate.
- Doing your part: If you’ve wondered how much LDPE is recycled, the answer is “not a lot.” Back in 2015, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released data explaining just 13% of all LDPE or LLDPE containers and packaging were later recycled. Recycling technology is rapidly changing, but even the most advanced technology doesn’t help unless you recycle your LDPE.
- Graining reputational benefits: Being a green company can mean a lot for your identity. The more recycled materials you can tout, the better you look to eco-friendly consumers.
Use Recyclable LDPE Plastic in Your Processes
If you’re reassessing your secondary packaging and are looking to be “greener,” don’t hesitate to consider using LDPE film. EDL Packaging Engineers is committed to sustainability and recycles all of its LDPE film used for testing. Our engineers can help assess and identify the best way to incorporate LDPE film into the secondary packaging for your products, whether they are bundled and shrink-wrapped or picked and placed into a tray for stability before wrapping. Contact our team to learn how we can help.