One of the biggest difficulties when recycling plastic is knowing where to put it. We lack the public facilities needed to recycle our rubbish correctly that prevents it from going into landfill. The UK is aiming to improve the rate of recycling across all four nations. The country hopes that 50% of waste will be recycled by 2020 and three-quarters of plastic packaging will be recycled by 2035.
Seven types of plastics are most commonly used for packaging. Not all these plastics are recyclable, and if they are, some have specific recycling instructions. The chasing arrows symbol on your plastic packaging doesn’t always mean the product is recyclable. The number inside the arrow describes how your packaging should be disposed of.
Here are the 7 types of plastic and how to handle them:
Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET)
Almost all plastic bottles and food packaging is made from PET. The material is 100% recyclable and collected by councils if placed in your household recycling bin or public recycling facility. When recycled, PET flakes and fibres are made into carpets, clothing, furniture and insulation. It’s important to note that clear PET is fully recyclable, but black packaging should not be recycled. The automatic sorting machines cannot detect dark coloured dyed plastic.
High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE)
HDPE is the most common type of plastic for household product packaging. HDPE is used for non-food and beverage packaging including shampoo, bleach and detergents. HDPE is recyclable and widely collected by local councils, but it isn’t biodegradable. The strength and durability of HDPE makes it the plastic of choice for outdoor bins, furniture and products subject to extreme weathering. HDPE products aren’t single-use, unlike PET they can be reused without losing quality.
Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC)
PVC can be flexible or rigid. In its flexible state, PVC is used to make food wrapping, toys, hoses, pipes and as a replacement for leather. The rigid version is used to make window frames, door frames and bank cards. PVC contains toxins that emit harmful chemicals throughout their lifetime. PVC isn’t recyclable but can be reused or repurposed to create other products.
Low-Density Polyethylene (LDPE)
LDPE is a lightweight plastic used for plastic bags, bottle rings and product wrapping. This plastic is not commonly recycled, which is why retailers charge customers for buying LDPE bags. While they are reusable, their flimsy properties make it only useful for a limited time. LDPE is not widely accepted by recycling facilities so you will need to check with your local council before disposing of the plastic.
Polypropylene is strong and lightweight with heat resistant properties. PP is ideal for microwave containers, coffee cups and medicine bottles. Its durability and resistance to damage means it’s used for car parts, bins and pallets. PP can be recycled in some councils and reused to an extent before daily use breaks it down.
Polystyrene is a lightweight, foam plastic used for takeaway containers, protective packaging, plastic cutlery and drinking cups. This material is weak and breaks down after a single-use. Polystyrene isn’t widely recycled and only accepted by some programs. As it’s single-use and often contaminated by food and drink, polystyrene should be avoided to reduce demand and production.
Number 7 plastics are a myriad of materials, most commonly Polycarbonate (PC) that contains Bisphenol A (BPA). Baby bottles, car parts and sunglasses are common examples of other plastics. Not every number 7 plastic can be recycled or reused so it’s important to check your local council’s policy for this type.
Reducing and recycling your plastic has never been more critical for our environment. We must find uses for our existing sources of plastic to decrease the amount of new plastic produced for consumer demand. Plastic-free and environmentally friendly alternatives can be found for most products on the market.
Click here to learn how and why Pro Environmental provide high-quality recycled PET to the UK’s food and beverage market.