What Plastics Can Be Recycled
Versatile plastics inspire innovation and help make life better, healthier, and safer. From containers and packaging to appliance components and construction materials, plastics play a pivotal role in just about everything around us.
The average American goes through more than 250 pounds of plastic waste annually, and much of that comes from packaging. Reuse of plastics is critical for environmental preservation and waste reduction, but understanding what to place in the recycling bin is often misunderstood.
At Preferred Plastics, we’re passionate about both plastics and the environment. As an industry-leading custom plastics extruder offering turnkey extrusion and finishing services, our team has a thorough knowledge of plastic materials, their benefits, and effective disposal methods.
Here’s a breakdown of plastic recycling, what materials are recyclable, and which plastic types are reusable.
Importance of Plastic Recycling
Recycling plastics helps conserve natural resources and reduce energy usage, pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions. It protects the environment, spreads awareness, promotes sustainable resource use, and creates jobs.
Another reason why plastic recycling is essential is that it puts materials to good use instead of filling up landfills. On average, recycling one ton of plastic saves 7.4 cubic yards of landfill space. Recycled plastic can be used to create items such as shampoo bottles, oil funnels, floor tiles, and traffic cones, among many other products.
Plastics recycling explained
On most plastic jars, containers, and other packaging products, you’ll find what’s generally accepted as the recycling logo. It’s a set of three arrows that form a triangular shape with a number in the middle. Occasionally, letters will appear underneath the triangle.
The number inside the arrows ranges from one to seven, and its purpose is to identify the plastic type. Here’s what those numbers mean.
1: Polyethylene Terephthalate, or PET
This is the easiest of all plastics to recycle. It’s often used for soda bottles, water bottles, and standard food packages.
Upon being recycled, the plastic is crushed and then shredded into small flakes. They are reprocessed to make new PET bottles or spun into polyester fiber. This recycled fiber is used to make textiles such as fleece garments, carpets, stuffing for pillows, and life jackets.
2: High-density Polyethylene, or HDPE
HDPE plastic is the stiff and weather-resistant plastic used to make milk jugs, detergent and oil bottles, toys, and some plastic bags. HDPE is the most commonly recycled plastic and is considered one of the safest forms of plastic.
It’s relatively simple and cost-effective to recycle HDPE. Common uses for recycled HDPE include picnic tables, plastic lumber, waste bins, park benches, bed liners for trucks and other products which require durability and weather-resistance.
3: Polyvinyl Chloride, or PVC
PVC is a soft and flexible plastic used to make clear plastic food wrapping, cooking oil bottles, teething rings, toys, and product packaging. It’s also used as the sheathing material for computer cables and to make plumbing pipes and parts. PVC is relatively impervious to sunlight and weather, and it’s found in window frames and other architectural accents.
Products made using PVC plastic are not recyclable, as the material contains toxins capable of leaching into surrounding environments. While some PVC products can be repurposed, most PVC products should not be reused.
4: Low-density Polyethylene, or LDPE
LDPE is often found in shrink wraps, dry cleaner garment bags, squeezable bottles, and the type of plastic bags used to package bread. The plastic grocery bags used in most stores today are made from LDPE plastic. Some clothing and furniture also use this type of plastic.
Products made from LDPE plastic are reusable, but not always recyclable. Confirm whether your local collection service accepts LDPE before placing it in a recycling bin. When recycled, LDPE plastic is used for plastic lumber, landscaping boards, garbage can liners, and floor tiles.
5: Polypropylene, also known as Poly Pro or PP
Polypropylene is a robust and lightweight plastic with superior heat-resistance qualities. It’s commonly used in applications that require barriers against moisture, grease, and chemicals, such as food storage and packaging. The material is also used for disposable diapers, pails, plastic bottle tops, packing tape, and rope.
Polypropylene is recyclable, but it’s accepted by all collection services. Check with your local collection service before placing products manufactured from Poly Pro in a recycling bin. When recycled, PP is used to make landscaping border stripping, battery cases, brooms, bins, and trays.
6: Polystyrene, or PS
Polystyrene is an inexpensive, lightweight, and easily formed plastic with a wide variety of uses. It’s most often made into disposable Styrofoam cups, take-out food containers, egg cartons, plastic picnic cutlery, and foam packaging used to fill shipping boxes.
PS is recyclable, but not all recycling programs accept the material at the moment. Check with your local collection service before placing products manufactured from Polystyrene in a recycling bin.
While polystyrene recycling is not widely available, the material is reusable in certain situations. Examples include peanut-shaped foam chips that protect contents inside boxes when being shipped.
The No. 7 category is a catch-all for polycarbonates, or PCs, and other plastics. Reuse and recycling protocols are not standardized within this category.
No. 7 plastics are commonly used to manufacture baby bottles, water cooler bottles, and car parts. BPA is found in polycarbonate plastic food containers often marked on the bottom with the letters “PC” by the recycling label No. 7.
Plastics with a No. 7 designation are not for reuse, unless they have the “PLA” compostable coding. PLA-coded plastics should be thrown in the compost and not the recycle bin since PLA compostable plastics are not recyclable.
Your Plastics Partner
Plastics comprise a large amount of solid waste and take centuries to break down. All recyclable plastics should be recycled to conserve energy and protect the environment.
Preferred Plastics is dedicated to doing our part to improve plastics use and consumer knowledge. We understand that finding a reliable and environmentally conscious plastics extruder can be difficult, which is why we strive to make it easy.