Can Recycled Plastic Be Extruded?

Yes, recycled plastic can be extruded effectively, offering sustainable alternatives to virgin materials in manufacturing processes.

Can Recycled Plastic Be Extruded

Types of Recycled Plastics

Recycling has become a key method to manage plastic waste. Given the sheer volume of plastic usage worldwide, recycled plastics are now an essential material source for various industries. Each type of recycled plastic has unique properties, which makes them suitable for different applications.

High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE)

HDPE is one of the most commonly recycled plastics. It is recognized by its milky white color and offers:

  • Durability: HDPE can withstand higher temperatures and is resistant to many solvents.
  • Common Uses: It is extensively used in producing plastic lumber, bottles, toys, and piping.
  • Recycling Rate: Approximately 30% of HDPE products are recycled annually.
  • Cost: The average price of recycled HDPE is around $800 per ton, making it economically viable for manufacturers.

Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET)

PET is primarily known for its clarity and strength:

  • Clarity: PET is transparent, making it an ideal material for packaging.
  • Common Uses: Most commonly found in soft drink and water bottles.
  • Recycling Rate: Almost 20% of PET products are given a new life through recycling processes.
  • Efficiency: The recycling process for PET can achieve an efficiency of about 85%.
  • Cost: Recycled PET costs about $1,200 per ton on average.

Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC)

PVC is versatile but can release harmful chemicals if not properly handled:

  • Flexibility: PVC can be rigid or flexible, based on specific additives.
  • Common Uses: Widely used for construction materials, like piping and window frames.
  • Recycling Rate: Roughly 15% of PVC materials are recycled.
  • Quality: Recycled PVC maintains a quality similar to its virgin counterpart.
  • Cost: The average cost of recycled PVC is approximately $600 per ton.

Polypropylene (PP)

PP is known for its lightweight and high melting point:

  • Temperature Resistance: PP can resist temperatures up to 160°C.
  • Common Uses: Popular for containers, automotive parts, and carpets.
  • Recycling Rate: About 18% of polypropylene products are recycled.
  • Speed: The recycling process for PP is faster, with turnaround times of just a few hours.
  • Cost: Recycled PP is priced at around $900 per ton on average.

Other Recycled Plastics

Apart from the above, there are several other plastics being recycled, each with unique properties and uses:

  • Polystyrene (PS): Commonly used for packaging and insulation, costing around $950 per ton.
  • Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS): Widely utilized in electronics and toys, with a cost of $1,300 per ton.
  • Polyethylene (PE): Found in plastic bags and wraps, priced at approximately $750 per ton.

Extrusion Process

The extrusion process is vital in shaping plastics into usable forms, whether for industrial applications or everyday consumer goods. Using heat and pressure, plastic is forced through a die to create products like pipes, films, and more.

Basic Principles of Extrusion

Extrusion is a method where plastic materials, whether in the form of pellets, granules, or powders, are melted and then pushed, or “extruded,” through a shaped hole called a die:

  • Heating Zone: The extruder usually has multiple heating zones, reaching temperatures of up to 250°C for many plastics.
  • Pressure: Internal pressure in the extruder can exceed 2,500 psi, ensuring consistent flow through the die.
  • Speed: The rate at which material is extruded depends on the type and grade of plastic, but common speeds range from 2 to 15 meters per minute.
  • Cooling: Once extruded, the product is immediately cooled, often through water baths or air blowers.

Differences Between Virgin and Recycled Plastic Extrusion

Though the core extrusion process remains similar, virgin and recycled plastics behave differently during the process:

  • Melting Point: Recycled plastics might have a slightly lower melting point due to previous heat exposures, often requiring temperatures around 10°C less than virgin counterparts.
  • Consistency: Virgin plastics typically offer more consistent behavior during extrusion, whereas recycled plastics can have varied properties based on their previous life and contaminants.
  • Cost: Extruding recycled plastics is generally cheaper, with cost savings of up to 30% when compared to virgin materials, given the lower raw material prices.

Advantages and Challenges in Extruding Recycled Plastics

Recycled plastics bring several advantages but also come with challenges:


  • Sustainability: Using recycled plastic reduces waste and is more environmentally friendly, conserving about 88% more energy compared to producing new plastics.
  • Economic Value: The cost-efficiency of recycled plastics offers an attractive price point, often 20-30% cheaper than virgin materials.
  • Versatility: With modern recycling technologies, extruded recycled plastics maintain a high quality, suitable for a broad range of applications.


  • Impurities: Recycled plastics can contain contaminants which can affect the quality and strength of the extruded product.
  • Material Variation: As recycled plastics come from varied sources, achieving a consistent mix can be challenging, requiring rigorous quality checks.
  • Wear and Tear: Extruding recycled plastic can be harder on machinery due to impurities, potentially reducing the lifespan of equipment by 5-10%.

Impacts on Product Quality

The use of recycled plastics in the extrusion process can have varied impacts on the quality of the resulting product. Analyzing these impacts aids manufacturers in making informed decisions about material choice.

Mechanical Properties of Extruded Recycled Plastics

The mechanical properties of a plastic material define its behavior under various conditions, such as tension, compression, or temperature:

  • Tensile Strength: Recycled plastics can have a tensile strength that is around 5-10% lower than their virgin counterparts, typically ranging between 25 to 40 MPa for common materials like PET.
  • Elongation: The ability of recycled plastic to stretch, often measured as a percentage, might be reduced by up to 15% compared to virgin plastics.
  • Modulus of Elasticity: This indicates the material’s stiffness. For extruded recycled plastics, the modulus can be in the range of 1,500 to 3,000 MPa, a slight decrease from virgin materials.
  • Impact Resistance: Some recycled plastics, especially those that have been recycled multiple times, might show a 10% drop in impact resistance, which measures a material’s ability to absorb energy without fracturing.

Aesthetic and Surface Finish Considerations

Appearance plays a significant role, especially in consumer products:

  • Color Variability: Recycled plastics might show more color variability due to the mix of source materials. A virgin PET bottle, for instance, might have a clear appearance, while a recycled one might have a slightly grayish tint.
  • Surface Finish: The surface of products made from recycled plastics can sometimes be less smooth. For instance, a recycled HDPE product might have a roughness value of 20 micrometers, compared to 15 micrometers for a virgin HDPE product.
  • Transparency: Materials like PET might see a 5-7% reduction in transparency when using recycled content.

Comparison to Products Made from Virgin Plastics

When comparing the quality of products made from recycled and virgin plastics:

  • Durability: While products from virgin plastics might last 15 years under standard conditions, recycled plastic products might have a lifespan reduced by up to 10%, lasting approximately 13.5 years.
  • Cost: The production cost of using recycled plastic is typically 20-30% less than that of virgin plastic, making it an economically attractive option.
  • Environmental Footprint: Products made from recycled plastics significantly reduce carbon emissions, with savings of up to 1.5 kg of CO2 per kilogram of plastic produced.

Comparison to Products Made from Virgin Plastics

Environmental Benefits

Utilizing recycled plastics over virgin materials has garnered significant attention due to its numerous environmental benefits. The transition to recycled plastics not only supports the sustainable use of resources but also mitigates detrimental impacts on the environment.

Reduction in Carbon Footprint

Carbon emissions play a pivotal role in global warming and climate change. By opting for recycled plastics:

  • Emissions Savings: On average, producing recycled plastics generates 70% fewer carbon emissions than virgin plastic production. For instance, while producing a kilogram of virgin PET releases around 6 kg of CO2, its recycled counterpart only emits 1.8 kg.
  • Energy Conservation: Recycling plastics consumes 88% less energy than producing plastics from raw materials. For example, manufacturing a plastic bottle from recycled content uses only 12% of the energy required for a bottle made from virgin materials.
  • Total Reduction: Annually, by using recycled plastics in the US alone, we can reduce carbon emissions equivalent to taking 2 million cars off the road.

Conservation of Natural Resources

Natural resources are finite, and their preservation is crucial for future generations:

  • Oil Savings: Producing recycled plastics requires significantly less petroleum. For every ton of plastic recycled, we save approximately 16 barrels of oil.
  • Water Usage: The water footprint for recycled plastics is up to 90% less than that of virgin plastics. To illustrate, manufacturing a standard-sized recycled plastic bottle uses only 10 liters of water, while a virgin plastic bottle uses 100 liters.
  • Preserving Habitats: Reducing the need for raw materials means less mining and drilling, resulting in the protection of natural habitats and a reduction in the loss of biodiversity.

Impact on Waste Management and Landfills

Landfills are reaching their capacity limits, making waste reduction imperative:

  • Landfill Space: Each ton of plastic recycled saves approximately 7.4 cubic yards of landfill space. With the current rate of plastic usage, recycling can prevent the need for new landfills every few years.
  • Toxic Leachate Reduction: Plastics in landfills can break down into toxic chemicals. By recycling, we reduce the amount of these chemicals, like phthalates and bisphenol A, entering our soil and groundwater.
  • Economic Value: Managing and maintaining landfills is expensive. Redirecting plastics from landfills to recycling centers can save municipalities up to $30 per ton in disposal costs.

Impact on Waste Management and Landfills

Economic Considerations

In the realm of plastics, economic factors often drive decision-making. While environmental benefits provide moral and long-term incentives, immediate economic considerations are crucial for businesses and manufacturers to transition to more sustainable practices.

Cost Comparison: Recycled vs. Virgin Plastics

When considering the economic viability of using recycled plastics, several factors come into play:

  • Raw Material Costs: Recycled plastics are generally cheaper at the source, with prices being around 20-30% less compared to virgin plastics. For instance, a ton of recycled PET might cost around $800, while its virgin counterpart could be priced at about $1,200.
  • Processing Costs: Though recycled plastics might need additional sorting and cleaning processes, the overall processing cost, thanks to energy savings and efficient modern recycling technologies, can be up to 15% less than that of virgin plastics.
  • Equipment Wear: Equipment processing recycled plastics may experience increased wear and tear due to impurities in the material. This could lead to slightly higher maintenance costs, increasing the overall cost by approximately 5% compared to equipment processing virgin plastics.
  • Economic Incentives: Many governments offer tax breaks, subsidies, and other incentives to companies that opt for recycled materials, further reducing the effective cost.

Market Demand and Opportunities for Extruded Recycled Plastic Products

With increasing environmental awareness, the market for recycled plastic products is growing:

  • Consumer Preference: A survey indicated that around 60% of consumers prefer products made from recycled materials and are even willing to pay a premium of up to 10% for them.
  • Niche Markets: Some industries, such as sustainable fashion or green construction, have a particularly high demand for recycled materials, offering opportunities for premium pricing.
  • Brand Image: Companies using recycled materials often benefit from a positive brand image, potentially increasing their customer base and market share. For instance, a company advertising a product made from 100% recycled material can see a boost in sales by up to 15% due to eco-conscious consumers.
  • Regulatory Opportunities: Some regions have regulations in place that mandate a certain percentage of recycled content in products or packaging. Companies adept at using recycled plastics can tap into these markets with ease and might even receive financial benefits for compliance.

Scroll to Top