Plastic Recycling Health and Safety

Since we started prototyping and experimenting with plastic recycling two years ago, we have been cautious and conservative with our Health and Safety procedures. We have had to weigh up the health and safety risks with the benefits of teaching children and adults about plastic pollution. When we set out to run recycling workshops for groups of people, we discovered it would be hard to 1) ensure attendees were safe and 2) create no waste.

With that, we have navigated our way through workshops that are a balance of education and hands on activities, all of which have not involved any plastic recycling by attendees. For example, we have pre-made recycled items and used other materials for ‘upcycling’.

These Health and Safety resources are being made available because we have spent a lot of time compiling them for our project and want to make it easy and accessible for others to stay safe while working on plastic recycling. We are soon to release a series of tutorials on plastic recycling and feel it is our responsibility to provide best practice health and safety.

See other resources available including:
- Health and Safety documentation required for a plastic recycling business in New Zealand

Disclaimer

Remix Plastic (and Clever Green Limited) takes no responsibility for the health and safety of those using these resources. We offer advice and guidance on best practice and trust that those undertaking any plastic recycling implement their own practices to keep themselves and others safe.

Equipment

Masks

Make sure the mask you choose has a filter that is suitable for fumes (more info here).

I have invested in a reusable respirator mask that only I use:

 

If you host workshops you may need to purchase disposable masks for attendees.

For more information about how respirator masks work and what type you will need see the 3M website and their respirator mask catalog.

Gloves

For any tasks that require hot machinery we recommend heat resistant gloves. You can purchase these from your local hardware store. A lot of small-scale recycling involves fine work so try to get gloves that fit well and allow fine movement but don’t sacrifice safety for this.

Ventilation

Even if you are using a mask, it is important that you have a well-ventilated space. This ensures that you are not putting yourself or any others at risk of inhaling plastic fumes. You also should be careful to only melt plastics to temperatures that are within their MELTING temperatures and not to their BURNING temperatures (these are different for each type of plastic). Burning plastic will release much more hazardous fumes than melting. Some plastic fumes are more dangerous than others and you should research your chosen plastic before melting.

Tips:

  • Always use a well-ventilated space or a ventilation system
  • Always wear an appropriate mask, even if in a ventilated space
  • Always clean plastic well before melting as cleaning product residues can release harmful fumes
  • Always separate out plastic types – don’t melt different plastics together because they have different melting points
  • Melt plastic at the lowest possible temperature for the shortest amount of time

Resources:

Scientific research

First Aid Kit

A first aid kit is a crucial component of any workspace. Along with the general equipment that one should include, you should ensure you have burn treatment. If you have a first aid kit, you should also have a first aid register and Health and Safety policy (resource coming soon).

Types of plastic

There are numerous resources online that examine the qualities and properties of different plastics, so we won’t cover this here in detail. Our main advice is:

  • Do thorough research before melting anything
  • Avoid PVC as these are hazardous
  • Be aware that even if you are working with the same TYPE of plastic (ie HDPE) there are different additives added to different plastics so they will not all behave the same way when melted.

Resources: