What are the different types of plastic?
Identifying different plastics and their properties can be quite difficult, let alone trying to distinguish which plastics can be recycled and re-purposed.
Take a look at our handy guide below to learn about the most common types of plastic, their uses, as well as their impact on the environment during plastic waste disposal.
More commonly known as PET or PETE, Polyethylene Terephthalate is one of the most used plastics on the planet, making up around 70% of all plastic bottles and containers in the United Kingdom, including many of the fizzy drink brands that you know and love.
PET is widely recyclable, being re-purposed into a variety of different food and drink containers, as well as textiles, including clothing and carpet.
To recycle PET, the plastic needs to be hydrolysed down to monomers, which then go through a purifying process to create new PET products.
Originally developed to be used for pipes in sewers and drains, today HDPE can be used across a variety of products and is most commonly used to create milk bottles, cleaning product bottles (bleach and anti-bacterial sprays), as well as personal hygiene products such as shampoo and conditioner.
HDPE breaks down very easily under extreme temperature highs or lows, making it one of the most commonly recyclable plastics. The plastic is rigorously cleaned before being homogenised and granulated to shred it down.
This is one of the oldest synthetic plastics which are still in use today for industrial production. PVC, or vinyl, as it is commonly called, is used in a variety of products such as window and door frames, carpet backing and pipes for homes.
Unlike other plastics, it is much harder to recycle due to its release of harmful toxins, with less than 1% of PVC materials being re-purposed each year. However, where it has been recycled, it has been re-manufactured to create guttering, traffic cones, panelling and a variety of PVC packaged products.
LDPE was one of the first plastics to be produced and is often used for everyday products you would find in your homes, such as bin bags, thin-film packaging and plastic bags.
It is one of the most discarded plastics, with around 75% of this waste coming from residential households. Fortunately for the environment, there are more and more recycling programs being put in place, reducing the number of LDPE we see in landfill. Instead, we are seeing more and more LDPE being re-made into their former products: carrier bags, bin bags and shipping envelopes.
Discovered in 1951, polypropylene is commonly used for food packaging trays such as ready meal tubs, butter containers and juice bottles.
Its unique fibres also mean it can be used for some carpets, heavier-duty upholstery such as curtains and vehicle upholstery.
The process of recycling PP is dependent on your local facility, as many areas do not have the facilities to recycle Polypropylene plastics. However, if your local recycling centre can recycle the containers, then it is likely to be recycled for its original designed purpose.
Also known as Styrofoam, polystyrene emerged in 1839 when a German apothecarist, Eduard Simon accidentally created the plastic when trying to produce medicine from natural resins.
As a lightweight and malleable plastic, it is most commonly used to protect packaging, especially fragile ceramic items and electronic goods. You may also see it used for some food items, such as egg boxes and fast-food containers.
Despite breaking down effortlessly, it is one of the most harmful to the environment, with oceans all over the world being littered with small pieces of the polymer. The plastic is also not typically recycled, although it’s always worth checking with your local authority to be sure.
For other plastics that do not fall into the six categories above, they will be classed as ‘Unallocated References’. Some of these plastics which you may have heard of include polycarbonate, acrylic, fibreglass, nylon and polylactide.
As this can include a whole range of plastics, you should always consult the packaging or your local recycling centre to determine whether they are recyclable or not. However, many BPA products will fall into this category, making plastic waste disposal very difficult – so check before you need to use them!
Got questions about your business’s plastic recycling? Pick up the phone or fill out a form and we will help.
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