Most of us are familiar with the unsustainability of single-use plastics, but not all plastics are as environmentally damaging. Here, we will be looking at the different types of plastic, whether they can be recycled or not and why this is the case.
Types of Recyclable Plastics
Type 1 (PET)
PET, or Polyethylene Terephthalate, is one of the most widely used and recycled plastics. It is commonly found in beverage bottles, food containers, and polyester fibres. PET is highly recyclable and can be transformed into various products, such as new bottles, fiberfill for clothing, and even carpets. The recycling process for PET involves sorting, cleaning, shredding, and melting the plastic, which can then be moulded into new items.
For recycling PET plastics in the workplace, one of the best investments you can make is a baler designed to compact PET. These machines can even provide you with another source of revenue, as recycling companies will pay you for your baled plastic.
Type 2 (HDPE)
High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE) is another commonly recycled plastic. It is often used in milk jugs, detergent bottles, and plastic bags. HDPE is favoured for recycling due to its relatively simple recycling process. After collection and sorting, HDPE is cleaned, shredded, and melted. The melted plastic can be used to create new bottles, plastic lumber, and even traffic cones.
Type 4 (LDPE)
Low-Density Polyethylene (LDPE) is a plastic type commonly used in plastic bags, shrink wraps, and squeezable bottles. While LDPE can technically be recycled, it poses challenges in the recycling process. LDPE has lower market demand compared to PET and HDPE, making its recycling less prevalent. However, some recycling facilities do accept LDPE, and it can be transformed into items like plastic lumber and trash can liners, and our RamPack HD range comes with retention claws as standard to help bales that spring back, such as those made from shrink wrap.
Type 5 (PP)
Polypropylene (PP) is a versatile plastic used in a wide range of products, including food containers, bottle caps, and medical equipment. PP has a high melting point, which makes it suitable for applications requiring heat resistance. Recycling PP involves sorting, cleaning, and melting the plastic, which can then be used to manufacture new plastic products such as automotive parts, storage bins, and garden furniture.
While many plastics can be recycled, some types are not easily recyclable or not accepted in most recycling programs. Here are examples of non-recyclable plastics:
Bioplastics are a category of plastics derived from renewable sources like cornstarch or sugarcane. While they may seem environmentally friendly, bioplastics pose challenges in recycling. Bioplastics require specific conditions and facilities for composting or recycling, which are not widely available. Improper disposal of bioplastics can contaminate recycling streams and hinder the recycling process.
Composite plastics are materials made by combining two or more plastic types or by incorporating non-plastic materials like fibres or metals. The complex composition of composite plastics makes recycling difficult. Separating and processing the different components requires specialised techniques and facilities, often making them non-recyclable.
Plastic-Coated Wrapping Paper
Plastic-coated wrapping paper, often used in gift packaging, poses challenges in the recycling process. The plastic coating prevents the paper from being easily recycled with other paper products. When disposing of plastic-coated wrapping paper, it is important to separate the plastic and paper components and dispose of them separately, ensuring proper recycling.
Polycarbonate is a strong and transparent plastic used in items like glasses lenses and compact discs. However, polycarbonate is generally non-recyclable due to its composition and the challenges associated with its recycling process. Proper disposal methods should be followed to ensure the responsible handling of polycarbonate products.
Cling Film and Blister Packaging
Cling film, commonly used for food wrapping, and blister packaging, used for packaging small consumer goods, is a non-recyclable plastic. These plastics often contain multiple layers or coatings that make them difficult to recycle. It is essential to dispose of cling film and blister packaging appropriately to minimise their environmental impact.
Plastics Number 3 (Polyvinyl Chloride)
Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC), often referred to as plastic number 3, is non-recyclable in normal recycling collections. PVC is commonly used in pipes, window frames, and vinyl flooring. The presence of chlorine in PVC makes it challenging to recycle, as it can release toxic fumes when melted. PVC should be disposed of properly to prevent environmental contamination.
Plastics Number 6 and 7
Plastic number 6, also known as polystyrene, and plastic number 7, which includes various plastic types like polycarbonate and bioplastics, are typically not recycled. These plastics have limited recycling options due to their composition or lack of recycling infrastructure. It is important to avoid excessive use of plastics number 6 and 7 and explore alternative, more sustainable materials.
Understanding which plastics are recyclable is crucial for responsible waste management. Plastics such as PET, HDPE, LDPE (although less common), and PP are generally recyclable and widely accepted in recycling programs. On the other hand, plastics like bioplastics, composite plastics, plastic-coated wrapping paper, polycarbonate, cling film, blister packaging, PVC, and plastics number 6 and 7 are challenging to recycle and often not accepted in standard recycling collections.
Proper disposal and recycling practices can significantly contribute to reducing plastic waste and preserving our environment. If you are a business that uses a lot of recyclable plastic, it may be worth investing in a plastic baler that can not only reduce the storage requirements of your waste, but also earn you some extra revenue.