Plastic, like most consumable packaging, has for a long time been a through-put design. Resources would be used to make bottles, which would be consumed and eventually thrown away. In this model, resources move in one direction, from production to consumption.
Thankfully, in the 21st century, we have recycling which promises to loop the resources back into the production cycle and divert them from becoming waste. In an ideal system, resources would never reach landfills and instead be caught in a regenerative cycle.
Unfortunately, our current recycling system is just not that efficent and we are left with some material being recycled back, while some is still diverted to landfills. While every recycling system is different, in general PET plastic bottles could be reused up to 7 times. This is roughly 85% efficent.
However, not all plastic is created equal. There are 7 types of plastic that can be recycled, though most places will only deal with PET, HDPE and PP. The technology exists to recycle the other 4 types but depending on the supply and demand, they might not be available in your municipality.
To start exploring, what these relationships look like, click the PET button below and then add plastic with the recycle symbol. If you're unsure what to do, there is a tutorial in the top right. Have fun exploring!
A data visualization to explore the complex relationship of plastic and its recycling system.
This project was created by Lloyd Richards as part of his internship at Interactive Things. Over the course six week, Lloyd explored, designed and developed a visualization based on a topic of his choosiing. Having a strong passion for sustainability and systems, he chose to explore the complexities of the plastic recycling system.
With so many visualization showing the simplicity of the system, Lloyd chose to approach it from a different perspective and show how complex the system is in reality. First outlining all the technological processes for recycling the major types of plastic and then researching how each is interconnected. The flow diagram was implemented into an interactive web experience allowing users to add plastic to the system and see what routes it takes, similar to a giant pinball machine.
The data visualization was created in TypeScript using React, Next.js, anime.js, Framer-Motion, and Emotion. GitHub Repo
Designed and Developed by Lloyd Richards
HUGE thanks to Peter Gassner for his patience and guidance throughout the project. And to everyone at Interactive Things for their input throughout the design and development process.