Know Your Plastics: Differentiating Between the 7 Main Types of Plastics
In general, we refer to plastic as a single entity when, in fact, there are many different types of plastics out there – each of which varies in terms of its recyclability and what it is turned into. Below is a breakdown of the seven main types of plastic, what they are used for, as well as whether or not they can be recycled, repurposed or both.
Polyethylene Terephthalate / PET / PETE / Recycling Code #1
PET is arguably the most widespread type of plastic in the world. Luckily, it is also one of the easier types to recycle. It is the type of plastic that is used to manufacture water and fizzy drink bottles as well as food and medicine jars.
PET can be recycled and can also be repurposed to make various items such as fruit trays, boat sails, shoes, car parts and even a fibre fill for pillows and duvets.
High-Density Polyethylene / HDPE / Recycling Code #2
HDPE is the second most prominent plastic type and is also recyclable. It is used to make milk bottles, grocery bags, containers for self-care products like shampoo and lotion, and toys, as well as crates and drums for various chemicals.
High-Density Polyethylene can be repurposed to create plastic crates and fencing.
Polyvinyl Chloride / PVC / Recycling Code #3
This plastic is usually employed to make pipes for plumbing, shoes, gutters, and tiles.
It is possible to recycle PVC, although it requires a different, more intensive process. It can be repurposed to make skirting and flooring.
Low-Density Polyethylene / LDPE / Recycling Code #4
LDPE requires a similar intensive recycling process to that of PVC and is used to manufacture sandwich bags, cling wrap, heavy duty refuse bags and container lids.
LDPE can be repurposed to make rubbish bins.
Polypropylene / PP / Recycling Code #5
Polypropylene, which is used to make items like Tupperware, and other kitchenware such as yoghurt and margarine tubs can be recycled. The different types of ‘film’ from PP is used in various applications with the film-extruded clear PP films best suited to items such as lid closures and bottle caps.
Polypropylene can be repurposed into rakes and battery cables.
Polystyrene or Styrofoam / PS / Recycling Code #6
Most forms of PS are, unfortunately, not recyclable although with a little bit of effort, certain items can be reprocessed and made into new packaging products. Polystyrene is used to make disposable cups for beverages, egg cartons, food trays, plastic cutlery, and plastic food boxes.
Polystyrene and styrofoam can be repurposed to make insulation and rulers.
Miscellaneous Plastics (polyctide, acrylic, polycarbonate, styrene, acrylonitrile butadiene, nylon, and fibreglass) / Recycling Code #7
The vast majority of these miscellaneous plastics are non-recyclable, although it is worthwhile speaking to a recycling company if you need to use them but are unsure how to recycle or repurpose them. These plastics are most commonly found in the composition of baby bottles, DVDs, glasses etc.
In South Africa, our usage and management of PET plastic is first world. In fact, new research has revealed that here in SA we recycle around 15% more of our PET waste than many European countries! However, according to Plastics|SA, while South Africa has shown a year on year increase in the total tonnage of plastics being recycled, as a country we fall down when it comes to recycling the balance of the plastics that are used.
If you are keen to do your part, get in touch with Postwink today to find out how you too can make a difference.