THERMOFORM Plastics, what are they and why are we talking about them?
This month, we are upping our plastics recycling vocabulary. That clear plastic packaging for your berries, salad greens, cosmetics, toys, and clamshell to-go containers, is called thermoform plastic and its name comes from the way that it's made.
Thermoforming is a molding technique that results in a variety of highly usable plastic products. While thermoforming can apply to a variety of different plastics, we most often come across it in the form of Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) which is labeled as #1 plastic. This is the tricky part: Even though they are labeled as #1 plastic, they still may not be readily recycled and can lead to contamination of recyclable materials. Even though some PET plastics labeled as #1 CAN be recycled, PET THERMOFORM plastics DO NOT belong in the recycling bin in Ontario County.
Why are PET thermoplastics not (readily) recyclable with other PET plastic bottles? In short, PET thermoforms behave differently than bottles as a result of some basic properties of the thermoform material.
Currently, in the recycling markets across the US and Canada, there is a 5-10% thermoform threshold in place. This means that for every bale of recyclable plastic, depending on the buyer, only 5-10% of it can be thermoform plastics. If the amount of thermoforms goes beyond this number, the bale is at risk of being discarded in the trash instead of moving along in the process to continue being recycled.