The 7 Types of Plastic & What You Need to Know About Them
Ever wondering what those little numbers really mean on the bottom of your plastic containers? Plastics aren’t all the same and they even have different ways of being recycled. There are hundreds of different types of plastics, or polymers that are manufactured, but there are 7 you should know about.
Knowing about the 7 main types of plastics can help you understand how to responsibly dispose and recycle it.
#1 Polyethylene Terephthalate Plastic (PET, PETE, or Polyester)
This plastic type you would recognize as the clear wrap around your food or packages. It is a wrinkle-free and shatterproof fiber that is often used to prevent oxygen from getting in and spoiling products. It is also used in clothing and many other products we use on the daily.
PETs are easily recyclable by most programs. Though they are known for their higher recyclability, they are not great for use as they contain antimony trioxide which is considered carcinogenic.
#2 High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE)
Polyethylene is one of the most commonly used plastics in our world. It is the strongest class of polyethylenes and is used for plastic bottles, pipes, and other building materials due to its resistance to moisture & chemicals. It is much thicker than PET making it a much stronger option.
Luckily, as HDPE is one of the most common plastics, it is also commonly accepted to most recycling programs across the world.
#3 Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC)
PVC is a hard & rigid plastic that is quite strong, often used in construction. PVC is the most dangerous plastic as it is known to contain dangerous toxins such as lead, BPA, dioxins, mercury, and cadmium, several of which may cause cancer. However it is still used in medical applications because it resists germs quite well and is easily disinfected.
#4 Low-Density Polyethylene (LDPE)
LDPE is often used to make shopping bags, food containers, or disposable packaging as it is a very flexible material and works well to hold liquids. Bubble wrap is also a common LDPE plastic that you may come across. Though LDPE is not commonly recycled in most programs, there are many mail-in facilities that will take and recycle it.
#5 Polypropylene (PP)
Polypropylene is quite rigid and resistant to heat, making it the typical choice for hot food containers, thermal vests, and car parts. It can also be found in feminine care products! It is known to be a safer plastic option and is often used for baby bottles when marked BPA-free. The problem with PP is it is not very recyclable and has been known to be a hormone disruptor.
#6 Polystyrene (PS)
Polystyrene, also known as Styrofoam, is a low-cost plastic that can be used as an insulator. It is well known as a food, packaging, and even construction insulation plastic. Polystyrene is quite dangerous and can release harmful neurotoxins that can be absorbed by the food it holds. It can be reused and recycled but there are often complications with the process. There are not many facilities that recycle polystyrene and due to its volume to weight ratio, it is often not very economic to be transported to said centers.
Every so often you may see the #7 plastic code printed on the bottom of your packaging. This one is a grouping of plastics that don’t typically fit in the other six or are mixtures of a few different plastics. These plastics are difficult to recycle and are rarely accepted in local recycling programs. Plastics such as nylon or fiberglass would fall under this category.