Often the quality of the plastic available is compromised due to the presence of different types of plastics; mixed grades of the same plastic; and/or organic contamination. In addition, some plastics degrade after each time around the recycling loop and after 3 to 10 cycles, are no longer good for further use.
Where quality is compromised, the used plastic can be mechanically recycled into a lower quality application—also known as “downcycled”—typically into products such as garden furniture, paint pails, buckets, and basic building and construction materials. In our PET example, this would be into textiles, or food trays.
Open Loop recycling may not be as good a solution as Closed Loop, but it is still a good alternative—offering both economic value and a reduction in carbon footprint versus making new virgin plastic and/or disposal to landfill or waste-to-energy. Furthermore, such applications often have a long life cycle, meaning the carbon that is used to make the product is sequestered (locked up rather than released into the atmosphere) for a period of time.
The scale of Open Loop recycling is, like Closed Loop, still constrained by available feedstock quantity and quality. Even if feedstock were available, there is also a challenge to find markets that are big enough to absorb all the production.