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The Problem With Black Plastic

  • 3 min read

The Problem With Black Plastic

It’s a little known fact that black plastic is particularly bad for the planet. At Spruce, we believe that avoiding all types of single-use plastic wherever possible is ideal. But certain types of plastic are – on the whole – more dire for the environment than others

So read on as we delve into the subject of black plastic, shedding light on its composition, recycling challenges, and sustainable alternatives you can choose to live a more conscious lifestyle. 

The Composition of Black Plastic

is black plastic bad for the environment

Black plastic is a widely used material in various industries due to its versatility and aesthetic appeal. However, its composition poses significant challenges for recycling. Typically, black plastic is made from polystyrene (PS) or polypropylene (PP) materials, which are dyed black to achieve the desired visual appearance. The dye used, carbon black, makes the recycling process complex.

Can you Recycle Black Plastic?

can you recycle black plastic

The short answer to “can you recycle black plastic” is - not, not really. There are many issues that make it particularly hard to recycle compared to its light-coloured counterparts.

Sorting Difficulties

Sorting facilities rely on optical sorting technology to identify and separate different types of plastics. However, black plastic absorbs light, making it difficult for the sensors to detect and categorize effectively. This leads to the misclassification of black plastic and, consequently, its exclusion from the recycling stream.

Limited End Markets

Even if black plastic manages to pass through the sorting process, it faces limited end-market opportunities. Many recycling facilities prioritize clear or lightly coloured plastics due to the higher demand for these materials in the market. As a result, black plastic often gets downcycled into lower-value products or ends up in landfills and incinerators.

Environmental Impact

The improper disposal of black plastic has severe environmental consequences. When sent to landfills, it contributes to the growing waste crisis and releases harmful greenhouse gasses as it decomposes. 

Incineration, another common disposal method, emits pollutants and exacerbates air pollution. To mitigate these issues, it is crucial to explore sustainable alternatives.

Sustainable Alternatives to Black Plastic

alternatives to black plastic

1. Non-Plastic Alternatives

Ideally, we want to replace black plastic with non-plastic alternatives altogether. Materials like aluminium, glass, stainless steel, or bamboo can serve as environmentally friendly substitutes, reducing our dependence on plastics and minimizing waste. 

2. Biodegradable Plastics

Biodegradable plastics, such as those made from polylactic acid (PLA) or polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHA) can also be seen as a better alternative to black plastic. These materials break down over time, reducing their environmental impact significantly. 

However, it is important to note that proper disposal and management systems are essential to ensure the effectiveness of biodegradable plastics. They are still new technology and a less ideal solution to a non-plastic alternative.

3. Light-Coloured Plastics

If you must use plastic, opting for light-coloured plastics, such as transparent or white variants, can increase its recyclability. These plastics are easier to sort and have higher chances of being accepted by recycling facilities. But remember, only 9% of all plastic is recycled so it’s not a fix-all solution, merely the lesser of two evils compared to black plastic. 

The Bottom Line

Black plastic poses significant challenges in terms of recycling and environmental impact. Its composition, coupled with sorting difficulties and limited end markets, makes it a less favourable option in sustainable waste management. 

By prioritizing sustainable alternatives, spreading awareness, and supporting recycling efforts, we can work towards a future where black plastic is replaced with environmentally friendly options.

The best way to limit plastic waste is to make swaps from single-use plastic items to refillable alternatives, such as switching to refillable cleaning products. This means we don’t have to rely on the inconsistencies of recycling methods and we can manage where our waste goes first-hand. 

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