How To Recycle Different Types of Plastic

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Plastic Recyling is the process of recovering scrap or waste plastics and reprocessing the material into useful products, sometimes completely different from their original state. For instance, this could mean melting down soft drink bottles then casting them as plastic chairs and tables.

Each plastic type has different resin identification code ranging from 1 to 7 that can be found at the bottom of the plastic surrounded by a triangle of arrows (as seen below)

This to allow consumers and recyclers to differentiate types of plastics while providing a uniform coding system for manufacturers. So, before recycling, plastics are sorted according to their resin identification code.

Easy Plastic To Recycle

The easiest and most common plastics to recycle are made of polyethylene terephthalate (PET or PETE) and are assigned the number 1.

Examples: soda and water bottles, medicine containers, and many other common consumer product containers.

Once it has been processed by a recycling facility, PETE can become fiberfill for winter coats, sleeping bags and life jackets. It can also be used to make bean bags, rope, car bumpers, tennis ball felt, combs, cassette tapes, sails for boats, furniture and, of course, other plastic bottles.

Number 2 is reserved for high-density polyethylene (HDPE) plastics. These include heavier containers that hold laundry detergents and bleaches as well as milk, shampoo and motor oil. Plastic labeled with the number 2 is often recycled into toys, piping, plastic lumber and rope. Like plastic designated number 1, it is widely accepted at recycling centers.

Plastics Less Commonly Recycled

  1. Polyvinyl chloride (PVC), commonly used in plastic pipes, shower curtains, medical tubing, vinyl dashboards, and even some baby bottle nipples, gets number 3.
  2. Low Density Polyethylene (LDPE) number 4 includes wrapping films, grocery and sandwich bags, and other containers made of low-density polyethylene
  3. Polypropylene (PP) number 5 used in processing reusable microwaveable ware; kitchenware; yogurt containers; margarine tubs; microwaveable disposable take-away containers; disposable cups, plates, tupperware, among other products, few municipal recycling centers will accept it due to its very low rate of recyclability.
  4. Polystyrene (PS) number 6 and is ommonly used for egg cartons; styrofoam items such packing peanuts; disposable cups, plates, meat trays and disposable cutlery; disposable take-away containers and insulation. It is widely accepted because it can be reprocessed into many items, including cassette tapes and rigid foam insulation.
Hardest Plastics to Recycle

Last, but far from least, are items crafted from various combinations of the aforementioned plastics or from unique plastic formulations not commonly used. Usually imprinted with a number 7 or nothing at all, these plastics are the most difficult to recycle (Beverage bottles; baby milk bottles; electronic casing) and, as such, are seldom collected or recycled. More ambitious consumers can feel free to return such items to the product manufacturers to avoid contributing to the local waste stream, and instead put the burden on the makers to recycle or dispose of the items properly.


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