No matter what, plastic is everywhere around us. Plastic is widely used all over the globe. From water bottles to food packaging and cosmetic products to straws. The most popular plastic in the world, polyethylene, was invented back in 1898. However, it was not until the 1960s when it became widely used and we became dependent on it. Indeed, plastic is very convenient and serves a great purpose. However, its impact on the environment is so significant that it is increasingly becoming apparent that if we do nothing it will eventually destroy our planet.
Recycling and “upcycling” plastics (repurposing plastics instead of throwing them away) are small actions individuals can take to combat the damage plastics do to the environment. Here we are going to talk about creative ways to upcycling your plastics and provide a quick cheat sheet for recycling.
Know Your Plastics
Sometimes you may simply need to recycle old plastics. But even then, not all plastics are the same. Here’s a quick reference for which types of plastics you’ll come across, and the new life they get as a result!
PETE (Polyethylene terephthalate) plastics are recycled as a whole. They are sorted, flaked, and then washed away by recyclers. Caps, labels, and other non-PETE attached to PETE bottles are not removed during the recycling process. It is used then to create a type of fabric that is then used in the clothing industry.
HDPE (High-Density Polyethylene) plastics are the most commonly recycled plastic. That is due to its highly crystalline structure which makes it stronger and higher in density than other plastics. HDPE has a melting point of around 130 degrees Celsius. This makes it easy to reshape HDPE via extrusion or mold injection easily. That is done without any significant degradation to the plastic. When recycled it is often used to make sturdy materials: tables, roadside curbs, trash receptacles, rulers, and even toilet partitions.
PS (Polystyrene) Plastics are not commonly recycled. However, when recycled, it is used in products like clothes hangers, park benches, toys, rules, picture frames, seeding containers, and flower pots. Polystyrene is used as an insulator when making doors and walls in construction. It has been used in that field since 1993.
PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride) plastics are recycled using two methods. Mechanical recycling, and Feedstock recycling. There are only two recycling methods for PVC because it is very hard to recycle PVC plastics. Since Chlorine is present in the construction of PVC it is dangerous to incinerate it as it will produce toxic fumes. When PVC is recycled it is used to produce the same product it was before. However, when the Feedstock recycling process is used, the resulted product is used as fuel for energy recovery.
LDPE (Low-density polyethylene) Plastics are one of the widely recycled kinds of plastics. The recycling process is done via melting the LDPE plastic to get rid of any contaminants. After that LDPE is manufactured into thin plastic sheets, which is then sold to other manufacturers. The recycled LDPE can be used in the clothing industries.
PS (Polystyrene) Plastics are 100% recyclable plastics. They can be thermoformed into any type the manufacturer wants. The recycled PS plastics can be used in thermal insulation, producing ice chests, hot drink cups, and foam packaging.
Not all recycling facilities are the same. If you’re not sure about whether the plastic you have can be recycled, contact your local facility to find out.
What is Upcycling?
Upcycling is the practice of taking used up plastic items like soda bottles or plastic containers and using them for another purpose instead of throwing them out.
Another term you may have heard for upcycling is “creative reuse”. Remember the adage “reduce, reuse, recycle”? Well, here you go. Just about every piece of used plastic you bring into your home has a new life waiting for it! Here are some great ideas for how you can upcycle plastics.
Upcycling for Home Décor
Upcycling for decor is the ultimate challenge: turning otherwise unsightly refuse into something that enhances your home’s aesthetics. It sounds impossible, but before you cringe and run away, give this list a read and see if there are any ideas that pique your interest:
- Decorative Lighting: By using used water bottles, plastic spoons or forks you can create a unique upscale lamp to decorate your home.
- Wall Art: You can start using colorful plastic water bottles’ caps to decorate your wall into a mosaic – transforming it into a work of art.
- Jewelry Holder: Take a used plastic bottle and cut it into two halves, use the bottom half as a holder for your rings and earrings. You can decorate it the way you like with paint or by applying fabric and decorative elements with glue.
- Make a Vase for Flowers: Start by cutting through your plastic bottles vertically. Bend the sides a little to create an edge, apply some paint, and, voila, you now have a great looking vase!
- Storage Containers: those old bottles of water and milk can be used as storage containers for your stuff. You can use it vertically by cutting into the bottle horizontally and opening it from the top, or horizontally by cutting into the bottle horizontally and opening it from the side.
- Kids Art Projects: Discarded plastic bottles are an inexpensive material for kids’ art projects (just be sure to do any cutting of the plastics for your kids). It’s not just small single-use plastics that can be great for kids.
Upcycling for organizers
Unused plastics can be used to organize many things around the house or even in the office. Here are some ideas to upcycle used plastics for a more organized life:
- Book Organizer: Do you have many books and no good way to sort them? You can do that easily with upcycled plastic. Start with a large plastic water bottle (like a gallon bottle or laundry bottle). Cut the handle part from the top and cut diagonally down the side of the bottle. Remove that part and you now have a book separator. Decorate and display!
- Piggy Bank: Need a place to store your change? Take a water bottle and make a small incision on the side of it. You can paint the bottle to make it look like a pig with some ribbons and decorations and you’ve got yourself a piggy bank!
- Plastic Drawers: You can use large water bottles to make plastic drawers. Make a vertical cut to split the bottle into two halves. Use the pouring nozzle of the bottle as the handle end and tuck your plastic drawers into small storage spaces. You can buy a shelf organizer from an IKEA store and install the bottles “drawers” in it.
- Drawer Partitions: Cut cylindrical water bottles into 3-inch tall rings. Glue the rings together in a chain as wide as your drawer. You can use the organizer to keep underwear, socks, office supplies, and junk drawer items organized.
- Wire Organizer: Thread a plastic straw through a pencil sharpener. It will transform your straw into a coil. Wrap the coil around groups of wires to keep them organized.
Upcycling for the Garden
When it comes to gardens, the ideas of upcycling your unused plastics are tremendous. Here are a few ideas:
- Growing Herbs: You can use your used old plastic bottles to grow herbs. Simply cut the side of the bottle, put soil inside containing the seeds of the plant you want to grow. And watch your garden come to life. Make sure you make some small holes in the bottom for drainage.
- Bird Feeders: Gather a plastic water bottle and some wide, hard straws. Cut the straws into two halves horizontally. Then cut a hole for the straws in the lower half of the water bottle and glue the straws into place. This will allow birdseed to slowly dispense into the straws. Fill the bottle with birdseed and put the cap back on. Hang the bottle outside a window and watch the birds!
- Hanging Planters: You can use the bottom of the water bottles as a plant hanger. Cut the bottom of a water bottle off, decorate it, and string cord or wire through 3-4 holes along the top edge. Put soil and seeds into the planter and hang it indoors or out.
- Watering Can: You can use a large water bottle as a watering device. Start with a large bottle that has a handle. Wash the bottle thoroughly. Poke a few holes into the cap. Decorate it as you like, fill it with water, remove the cap and start watering your plants!
Plastic is an integral part of our lives. Yes, there are many alternatives to plastic, however, they are not enough to cover all the demand. We have to minimize the impact the plastic has on the environment since we are the users. Upcycling is just one answer to that problem. Every item you re-use to decorate your home, organize your things, or beautify your corner of the great outdoors means less waste, which means a less negative impact on the environment.