The different types of plastic
- September 30, 2021
Do you know the different types of plastic and their recyclability? Just because there is a recycling sign on the bottom of your plastic cup doesn’t mean it is really recyclable. It is often confusing. The logo that identifies the type of plastic is exactly the same as the recycling logo (the Möbius strip). So you have to open your eyes wide to understand all the complexities of the different types of plastic. When it comes to recycling plastic, you need to pay attention to the number on the Möbius strip. The number identifies the type of plastic. There are seven types of plastic to be aware of, all of which are reviewed below. For more complexity, the plastics accepted are different according to the cities or departments. You can check the website of your town or city, which normally announces what is accepted or not in the recycling bins.
PET: Polyethylene Terephthalate
Plastic #1 is made from polyethylene terephthalate and is commonly known as PET. We have to use some technical terms 😉 This plastic is often transparent and is most often used for drinks such as cups and soda bottles. It is considered to be the environmentally friendly plastic. Indeed, it requires little electricity to manufacture (250°C against 1000°C for glass for example). The problem is that it has very little resistance to heat. PET is porous, which allows bacteria to accumulate and reproduce rapidly. This is why it is not advisable to use a plastic bottle for a long time. And above all, it is not advisable to drink from the bottle that has been in the car for a few months 😉 The other good thing about PET is that it is 100% recyclable. This is the type of plastic used for stretch film. Check out our nice alternatives to plastic stretch film right here.
HDPE: High Density Polyethylene
Plastic #2 is high density polyethylene and is commonly used with the abbreviation HDPE. Polyethylene is commonly used to make laundry bottles, milk bottles and toys. It is a thermoplastic that is hard and opaque. As far as we know, it is not associated with any known health problems and is easily recyclable.
PVC: Polyvinyl chloride
We are sure you have heard of this one, PVC. Plastic number 3 is polyvinyl chloride and we commonly see this plastic abbreviated as PVC. PVC is used to make a number of household items such as shower curtains, vinyl, plastic film, inflatables such as pool toys, flooring, car interiors and many vegan leathers.
It is a thermoplastic polymer, to which many plasticisers and phthalates are added to make it softer and more flexible. The problem is that phthalates are endocrine disruptors. Endocrine disruptors are substances that mimic the role of hormones and disrupt their proper functioning.
This plastic is not recyclable in most places.
LDPE: Low Density Polyethylene
Plastic #4 is a low density polyethylene known by the abbreviation LDPE.
LDPE is most commonly used for grocery bags, plastic packaging for shipped items, and the waterproof inner lining of coffee cups and milk cartons. It is a thermoplastic made from petroleum. It can be opaque or translucent. Although there are no known health problems, this plastic is very difficult to recycle. There are currently few recycling facilities for this type of plastic. Where you can, keep this type of plastic to a minimum.
Plastic #5 is polypropylene most often seen with the abbreviation PP.
PP is most often used for jars such as yoghurt, cheese and butter, lunch boxes, tupperware and medicine bottles.
It is a thermoplastic polymer which makes it strong and heat resistant. This is why we often consider this plastic to be microwave and dishwasher safe. All this means that heat does not deform the plastic. This does not mean it is safe, and we recommend heating food on a plate rather than in a plastic container.
If the #5 plastic is rigid, some recycling facilities may accept it, but they are quite rare. Most of the time this material should be landfilled.
Plastic #6 is the polystyrene most often thought of as PS.
It is a petroleum-based plastic that we most often call polystyrene, but it is also used for many other things such as disposable cutlery, coffee cup lids, polystyrene cups and egg cartons, DVD cases, takeaway trays and peanut packaging. It is a type of plastic that breaks easily into small pieces and pollutes our waterways. Moreover, it contains toxic substances that are carcinogenic according to the EPA and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). Most of these plastics are fairly easy to avoid when it comes to food thanks to bulk and Bee Wraps.
It is not generally accepted at recycling facilities.
PC or PLA: Polycarbonate or Polylactic Acid
Plastic #7 is a bit tricky because it includes all the other types of plastic besides the 6 seen plus maybe a mixture of all kinds of plastics. You can recognise it with the initials PC (= polycarbonate) or PLA (= polylactic acid). PLA is a plastic of vegetable origin. Despite what people think, PLA is compostable and not biodegradable. PLA has to be subjected to hot temperatures (between 55 and 70°C) in order to be composted, so you cannot compost it in your garden or leave it in nature. It is accepted in some industrial composts. Today, there is a lack of infrastructure that accepts PLA for composting. This means that it usually ends up in the landfill.
Anotherway's alternatives to single-use plastic
- Bee Wrap, the reusable food wrap made from beeswax or rice wax. 1 pack of Bee Wraps saves you 4 rolls of plastic wrap.
- Dishwashing cake or solid dishwashing soap. 1 bar of soap saves you 1 litre of washing-up liquid.
- Ecological washing powder. 1 pack of 60 washes (250 g of powder) saves you up to 3 plastic cans of washing powder.
- The bulk bag. 1 fabric bulk bag replaces all your plastic bags.
We hope that this article helps you to understand the different types of plastic, has been useful to you and will help you in your recycling. Please feel free to give us your feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org or on our social networks.