Recycled Plastic vs Virgin Plastics

Manufacturing of Hay Wise Feeders in Boise, Idaho

Manufacturing of Hay Wise Feeders in Boise, Idaho

There is much talk about the greenness of recycling plastics and the feel good vibe one should get by using items made from them.

When we were designing the Hay Wise Feeder and researching the plastics market, I was very sure I wanted to be able to label them as 100% Made in USA from recycled materials.  In the past three years of researching the economics, availability, sustainability and the real truths about recycled plastics for use in food containers, I was very unpleasantly surprised to find it is a difficult undertaking.

First the FDA requirements for food grade recycled materials are quite stringent, and the protocols for successfully removing ALL contaminants from the plastics’ original use are expensive.  The paperwork and reporting process is complex.

Here is an excerpt from FDA’s guidelines:

“…a complete description of the recycling process, including a description of the source of the recyclable plastic and a description of any source controls in place intended to ensure that only plastic that initially complied with the applicable regulations is recycled. Also, a description of any steps that are taken to ensure that the recyclable plastic is not contaminated at some point, either before collection for recycling, or during the recycling process…. The results of any tests performed to show that the recycling process removes possible contaminants. For use of the recycled material as a substitute for plastic made from virgin materials, it would be necessary to either show that there has been no possibility of contamination with substances other than food or to demonstrate, through surrogate contaminant testing and, if appropriate, additional migration testing, that your recycling process successfully removes possible contaminants…..a description of the proposed conditions of use of the plastic (e.g., information on intended temperature of use, type of food with which the plastic will come into contact, the duration of the contact, and whether the food-contact plastic will be for repeated or single-use applications.)… 

So, that was my official yellow light.  The next one came through talking to the industry leaders in plastics molding, who have years of experience buying resins for the products they make.  The consensus is that there definite strength, durability and structural problems with using recycled resins in manufacturing items intended to withstand heavy and repeated use and reuse.  Examples would be crushing of stacked or nested products; dye runs and/or color fading in areas of an item that happened to have a higher concentration of poor grade or ‘dirty’ recycled resin. Inconsistent shatter tests, poor resistance to heat and freezing, and UV damage, and of course, the biggy for me- leaching of contaminants from the plastics’ previous life into my product. Bottom line, the manufactures don’t feel it is consistent enough for heavy food grade use.

The final and red light came here at home.  I did several very non-scientific tests with the Gang At FairHaven to see, if energetically, it made a difference to my end users; the horses and dogs that are here.  I do layups, layovers and rehabilitative therapies here, so I have a very wide range of non-scientific testers at my disposal.

I put water buckets in every stall and every paddock. They were made of the following: recycled plastic in a medium color, a virgin plastic in white, a Fortex plastic bucket (in various colors)  And one of those horrible rubber feed tubs that get the oil slick on top when you put water in them.

Each horse had two buckets to choose from, and the combinations were rotated, but the recycled plastic remained the constant in each pen. 

To a horse, dog and a donkey, all chose whatever bucket was NOT the recycled bucket until their choice was the recycled bucket or the rubber tub.  Then they chose the recycled bucket.

Finally, given the fact that I really am adamant that it isn’t ‘green’ unless it is sustainable and the only guarantee of quality and purity for foods is virgin plastics; I gave up on themore expensive, less predictable recycled materials and chose ‘new’ over used.  I did stay true to a 100%  Made In America product, and that is a very good thing, indeed.