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The 7 Types Of Plastics

Identifying plastics types isn’t always easy. That’s why we put together this simple guide which should help to clear up the confusion.

When we talk about the plastic-type, we refer to the Plastic’s Resin Symbol — often found printed or embossed onto the plastic packaging. You may not find the symbol (it’s not always shown), but all is not lost. There are plenty of other ways to tell the type of plastic just by looking at its characteristics; colour, shape, degree of flexibility or weight.

PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate) 

The symbol is typically found on the underside of the container.

Features: Clear (transparent), flexible, tough.

Common uses: Water/soft drinks bottles, punnets and bottled spray cleaners.

Easy to recycle?: Yes. PET is one of the most widely recycled plastics in the world. Just don’t forget to empty and replace the cap.

Next life: More PET products or textiles.

♴ HDPE (High-Density Polyethylene)

HDPE is thicker than PET but can be used for similar types of products.

Features: Opaque, coloured and somewhat rigid. 

Common uses: Bleach bottles, shampoo, and medicine bottles, lids.

Easy to recycle?: Mostly yes — in household recycling bins. But only once your HDPE packaging has been emptied, and any remaining food has been rinsed off.

Next Life: Garden furniture and more HDPE packaging!

♵ PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride)

Relatively uncommon for household packaging or containers.

Features: Hard, opaque (often white), stiff.

Common uses: Drainage water pipes.

Easy to recycle?: Nope — these products are not easily recycled at kerbside and are rarely found in product packaging. You may be able to take these types of plastic products to a local drop-off centre to be recycled instead.

Next Life: New PVC products (if recycled). 

♶ LDPE (Low-Density Polyethylene)

One of the main contributors to plastic pollution.

Features: Flexible and usually clear.

Common uses: Films, bags and wrapping. These must be entirely removed to ensure the box gets recycled.

Easy to recycle?: No — well, not from home anyway. However, some supermarket stores do offer drop-off bins for these types of soft plastics.

Next Life: More LDPE products!

♷ PP (Polypropylene)

One of the easiest plastics to recycle and found in most product packaging.

Features: Hard, rigid and opaque plastic.

Common uses: Ice-cream and margarine tubs, microwaveable (ready-meal) trays, bottle caps, and plant pots.

Easy to recycle?: Mostly yes — just don’t forget to empty your containers and give them a quick rinse first.

Next Life: Car bumpers, garden furniture, and more PP packaging.

♸ PS (Polystyrene)

Add 95% air, and you have styrofoam!

Features: Brittle, opaque.

Common uses: Multi-pack (snap) yogurt pots, styrofoam cups and trays.

Easy to recycle?: Nope, pop any forms of Polystyrene straight into the general waste bin.

Next life: Nope, known as the ‘disposable plastic’, it doesn’t have many next life options currently.

♹ Other Plastics

Number 7 is for all plastics other than those identified within types 1–6 and should never be put in the recycling bin! Strictly speaking, this material category includes ‘mixed plastics’ such as foil wrappers, pouches and packets. However, we like to separate these items into their own material type category as ‘mixed plastics’ as some specialist recycling programs exist for them.

Features: Difficult to identify visually due to its variety of forms.

Common uses: Bio-plastics, oven-baking bags, plastic cups and plates

Easy to recycle?: Nope, we like to say, “if in doubt, throw it out”. 

Next life: Bioplastics degrade naturally. All others end up incinerated or in the landfill.

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