Many years ago, I took a job at a plastics factory. I learned a lot from that job. So much so that I think everyone who is concerned about plastic pollution should have a similar experience. A few months working in a plastics plant could change anyone’s perspective.
Looking back on my time in that factory reminds me that I knew very little about plastic way back then. All I knew was that I had a lot of it in my home. I didn’t know how it was made. I didn’t know why it was, and still is, the most utilized manufacturing material in the world. I didn’t even know much about plastic recycling.
How Plastic Products Are Made
My first lesson in plastics was how products are actually made. I was originally hired to work on a manufacturing line where dozens of injection mold machines stylishster spat out thousands of plastic products every minute. My job was to monitor a particular machine to make sure it did not jam as new parts were ejected. Between cycles, I trimmed cutoffs from those parts.
Prior to that experience, I never knew about injection mold manufacturing. I never knew that manufacturers combine virgin plastic with recycled plastic (a.k.a regrind) to make new products. And I certainly didn’t know that it takes mere seconds to produce a new part in an injection mold environment.
Industrial Plastics Are Different
The second lesson I learned is that industrial plastics are different from their consumer counterparts in terms of recycling. For example, I asked one of my coworkers what happened to all the cutoffs we were trimming from the parts. I learned they were collected and sent through grinders. The ground material was put back into manufacturing.
I also learned that there are companies who specialize in turning industrial scrap plastic into regrind. Seraphim Plastics, based in Tennessee, is one such company. They purchase things like plastic buckets and totes, send the materials through a series of grinders, and produce the same type of regrind my former employer made use of.
My former employer probably bought regrind from a company like Seraphim. I say that because we did not produce enough regrind from cutoffs to equal what I saw stacked up in the warehouse. The company had to be buying most of it from a recycler.
We Take Plastic for Granted
A third lesson I learned from that experience is just how much we take plastic for granted. After working for a while on the manufacturing line, I was transferred to the tishare assembly department. That is where we took a number of plastic parts and assembled them to create finished products.
We were assembling dozens of products I had never considered before. Everything from headphones to printer cases and sunglasses passed through our hands. I was not necessarily surprised to see all those different things because I subconsciously knew of their existence prior to working at the company. But until I started in the assembly department, I never considered how much plastic impacted my daily life.
A Whole New World
I know there are plenty of people out there who would love nothing more than to completely eliminate plastics from modern life. I am not one of them, by the way. The introduction of plastic as a manufacturing material opened up a whole new world that would not be possible any other way. Count me among plastic’s biggest fans. Thanks to my experience working in a plastics factory, I have a profound appreciation for the life-changing material.