Plastic is a valuable and useful raw material that is suitable for reuse. The reutilisation of plastics has come on in leaps and bounds in Finland.
Recycling is a general term for a process aimed at the reutilisation of materials that have already been in use. In the recycling of plastics, this process covers the collection of plastic materials (logistics), sorting of material for further processing (sorting) and then either reutilisation as material (material recycling) or use in energy production (incineration). The most commonly used plastics are divided into material classes, which are shown in the picture on the right. This classification can be used as assistance in the collection of plastics for recycling.
The EU’s waste management hierarchy breaks this process down into four parts, also known as the 4 Rs:
In the use of plastics, the amount of material used has been successfully reduced over the past few decades, with some products becoming up to 70% lighter. Plastic can be used to make products with a service life of decades or even centuries. It is also ideal for recycling because its processing does not require large quantities of energy. Plastic’s energy content is close to that of oil, which means that it can be incinerated to generate electricity or heat.
Plastic is suitable for recycling. Therefore, it is important that recycling in the plastic sector is made cost-efficient and effective.
Waste must always be processed and managed, regardless of its type. Plastic must not be disposed of in nature. Because plastic products are affordable, consumers who are not motivated by environmental values may be more inclined to throw away plastic products instead of recycling them appropriately. Plastic in itself does not cause environmental problems. In contrast, the appropriate use of plastics can help solve numerous problems. Plastic can be used to make functional wastewater systems, prolong the shelf life of products, and to cultivate plants using less water and fewer pesticides.
Plastic remains a valuable raw material even after a product has reached the end of its service life. Almost all plastic waste can be used as material or in energy production.