Types of Recyclable Plastic

Plastic, made from synthetic or natural high-molecular compounds called polymers, has become a societal sensation. Originally praised for cost-effectiveness, the extensive production has led to legal and illegal dumpsites, causing plastic patches in oceans, posing a potential environmental catastrophe.

To prevent this from happening, people have become concerned about recycling plastic. The Resin Identification Coding System (RIC), often referred to as ASTM International RIC, consists of symbols found on plastic products, serving to indicate the specific plastic resin used in their production. This system was crafted in 1988 by the Society of the Plastics Industry, now known as the Plastics Industry Association, in the United States. However, as of 2008, its administration shifted to ASTM International, a global standards organization.

What are the 7 main types of plastic?

In the U.S., it is customary to label plastic with 7 numbers on the recycling symbol:

Each type of plastic has its own characteristics in production and recycling. Some are 100% recyclable, others are almost impossible to recycle. In order not to confuse you, we have prepared a description of each type of plastic.

Plastic # 1 (PETE or PET)

PET 1 recycling symbol

Polyethylene terephthalate, commonly known as PETE or PET plastic, finds its way into various products, showcasing its versatility. You’ll spot it in polyester fibers (think cozy Polar Fleece), thermoformed sheets, sturdy strapping materials, soft drink bottles, reusable tote bags, furniture components, carpeting, and sometimes in the production of new containers.

One notable feature of PETE is its relatively straightforward recyclability, making it a practical choice in a world increasingly focused on sustainable practices.

Plastic # 2 (HDPE or PE-HD)

High-density polyethylene, or HDPE and also known as PE-HD plastic, is prominently featured in a diverse range of everyday items. You’ll encounter HDPE in the form of bottles, sturdy grocery bags, milk jugs, essential recycling bins, agricultural pipes, reliable base cups, car stops, playground equipment, and even in the construction of durable plastic lumber.

The noteworthy characteristic of HDPE lies in its commendable recyclability, contributing to its popularity in various applications and aligning with the growing emphasis on environmentally conscious choices.

Plastic # 3 (PVC or V)

Polyvinyl chloride, commonly known as PVC or Vinyl, is utilized in a range of products, including pipes, window profiles, siding, fencing, flooring, shower curtains, lawn chairs, non-food bottles, and children’s toys. However, when it comes to recyclability, PVC poses a challenge. Its complex composition and the presence of additives make the recycling process more intricate compared to some other plastics.

Therefore, despite the versatility of the application, it is worth thinking in advance about the difficulties associated with PVC recycling in the future. Check with plastic recycling companies to find out whether they accept PVC or not. And if not, try to avoid using this type of plastic.

Plastic # 4 (LDPE or PE-LD)

Low-density polyethylene, often referred to as LDPE or PE-LD plastic, is commonly found in plastic bags, six-pack rings, various containers, dispensing bottles, wash bottles, tubing, and various molded laboratory equipment.

LDPE is easier recyclability compared to some plastics, contributing to its widespread use in various everyday items. This makes LDPE a more environmentally friendly option for single-use plastics, although recycling efficiency can still depend on local facilities and infrastructure.

Plastic # 5 (PP)

PP 5 plastic symbol

Polypropylene, commonly known as PP plastic, serves a multitude of purposes and is found in various products. You can encounter PP in auto parts, industrial fibers, food containers, and dishware. Beyond these, PP extends its utility to a broader spectrum, including packaging materials, caps and closures, medical devices, textiles, stationery, and even banknotes in some countries.

PP is favored for its versatility and ease of recyclability. Its ability to withstand high temperatures and resist chemical reactions makes it a reliable choice for a wide array of applications. Its recyclability adds an eco-friendly dimension, making PP a sustainable option in the diverse world of plastics.

Plastic # 6 (PS)

Polystyrene, commonly known as PS plastic, finds its way into a variety of products, showcasing its versatility. You’ll spot it in desk accessories, cafeteria trays, plastic utensils, coffee cup lids, toys, video cassettes and cases, clamshell containers, packaging peanuts, and even insulation boards and other expanded polystyrene products, such as Styrofoam.

However, when it comes to recyclability, PS faces challenges. The lightweight and bulky nature of expanded polystyrene products, in particular, poses difficulties in traditional recycling systems. This makes the environmental impact of PS a topic of consideration, with alternative materials being explored to address sustainability concerns.

Plastic # 7 (OTHER)

Plastics categorized under number 7, which includes various types like acrylic, nylon, polycarbonate, and polylactic acid (a bioplastic commonly known as PLA), as well as multilayer combinations of different plastics, are utilized in a range of products. You’ll find them in bottles, applications for plastic lumber, headlight lenses, and safety shields or glasses.

The diverse nature of plastics under the number 7 category brings a mix of properties suitable for different purposes. While these materials offer versatility, the recyclability of some, like polycarbonate, can be challenging. As we continue exploring sustainable alternatives, it becomes essential to weigh the functional benefits against the environmental considerations for each specific type within this category.

What do you need to know about plastics?

You can drop the number 1 and 2 plastics into the collection garbage can. Although plastic number 4 is easy to recycle, but, for example, LDPE plastic bags can clog the recycling equipment if it is not designed for it.

Although PVC (#3) is difficult to recycle, there are programs to recycle PVC windows, pipes, and other materials commonly used in construction.

Polystyrene (#6) is often not recycled through curbside programs as it is too lightweight to be economical to recycle, usually incinerated instead.

Polypropylene (#5) Picked up through most curbside recycling programs.

Plastics number 7 are generally not recyclable. However, there are programs to recycle some plastics in this number, such as polycarbonate recycling.