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Plastic - we all seem to know what it is, but we can't really say anything more about it. Apart from the fact that it is… plastic! We realize that there are different kinds of it. However, few know what is hidden in the composition of packaging or products. When it comes to identification, we often are simply lost and don’t even know where to start.
Are you unsure how to sort your household waste properly or how to choose a plastic product safe for the environment? Don’t worry and keep reading – we’ve created a summary of popular applications and key information for the main kinds of plastics on the market! With this list, you will know how to identify plastic products and hence, how to make environmentally friendly buyer decisions in the future.
How to identify the type of plastic?
Any plastic product purchased by you will be categorized as one of seven main types, and you can easily find this information in the form of a number printed on it (usually on the bottom side of your product or on its label). You will be looking for three arrows creating a triangle, with a number in the central part of this shape.
What are the different types of plastics?
01 stands for PET (polyethylene terephthalate)
We'll start with the most common one, PET. It is used, for example, in beverage bottles, medicine containers, food packaging, or even clothing! Its high strength makes it the lightest way to package beverages, thus minimizing emissions during distribution.
It's worth noting that PET meets worldwide requirements for food contact.
Is PET plastic recyclable?
Yes! The good news is that PET plastic is recyclable, and the bad news is that only a small portion is actually being recycled, with the rest landing in landfills or being incinerated - traditional recycling methods require PET plastic to be clean, properly sorted, and do not have any other materials attached to it.
Interesting facts about PET:
- PET makes up almost 50% of all plastics produced, making it the most common plastic! This is precisely why it was the first kind of plastic we focused on with our chemical recycling technology, that can process also dirty, unsorted post-consumer PET plastics.
- Polyester, which can be found in our clothes and other textiles, is also PET, just in the form of fibers!
02 goes for HDPE (high-density polyethylene)
Juice containers, shampoo, and conditioner bottles, as well as toys are usually made of HDPE. Note - it is ranked as one of the safest plastics to use in everyday life! Packaging made from it is reusable, plus it shows high-temperature resistance.
Despite its great features, it’s less common than PET because... it's more expensive to produce!
HDPE is also recyclable.
03 means PVC (polyvinyl chloride)
Shopping bags, plumbing pipes, shoes, and gutters are made of it. It is characterized by high mechanical strength, which is why PVC is used also, for example, to cover the surface of ski jumps, downhill slopes, cable car platforms, sports fields, and ski lifts.
PVC plastic is recyclable.
If you see 04, it is LDPE (low-density polyethylene)
It is a soft, lightweight, and flexible material. This kind of plastic you can find in food storage films, frozen food bags, and garbage bags. Easy to form, often used also in... prosthetics!
LDPE is also recyclable.
05 is PP (polypropylene)
PP is used in any thin plastic food container, so you'll find it in yogurt cups, take-out containers, and disposable plates, to name a few. It's also a material widely used in caps and toys. Because of its relative durability, PP is a very safe type of plastic.
PP is recyclable as well.
06 means PS (polystyrene)
Most often we can find it in the form of plastic packaging, cutlery, or cup lids. You can discover it also in jewelry, lamp shades, or household appliance parts, but mostly as PS foam. In this form, it is used especially in the construction industry (as building insulation), but also in the food service industry, especially as take-out packaging.
PS plastic technically can be recycled.
07 is used for other kinds of plastic (including polycarbonate, polylactic acid, acrylic, polystyrene, and nylon)
Here you'll find a variety of products from plastic CDs and DVDs to baby bottles. All kinds of bioplastics also belong to group number seven.
This mix of plastics makes it difficult to properly recycle due to the high costs related to sorting it out - the plastic in this group most often ends up in an incinerator or landfill.
01, 02, 03...
There are different types of plastics around us and we use them every day. Now, when you can identify them and you know a bit more about their applications and recyclability, can you tell why only around 10% of plastics actually get recycled?
Why plastics are not being recycled, even if they can be?
Several aspects influence the final cost and efficiency of the recycling processes used across the globe. Most of the technologies can treat one plastic type only, that's why mixed media streams must be pre-sorted and multilayer items separated. Moreover, for a vast majority of recycling methods, plastics need to be clean to be processed, that is why after sorting them out, post-consumer items require pre-washing.
That is why it is crucial to properly identify the type of plastic and put it in the right recycling bin, supporting global efforts to create a circular economy for plastics. Without it, there is a substantial risk that due to the costs and complexity of pre-sorting and pre-washing them, plastics - instead of being recycled - will end up in landfills or incineration centers, forcing the production of new plastic from oil.
Do you want to learn more about plastic and plastic recycling? Stay tuned for our next blog posts and don't forget to subscribe to our newsletter!