plastic recycling codes

103: Learn about the recycling codes on plastics

Cost of taking action: £/$/€ NIL

Did you know how many different types of plastic there are?

There are in fact hundreds of different types of plastic; some of these are fine in reusable products, some are readily recyclable, and some cannot be recycled.

This action is an easy one; we’d like you to learn a little about the different codes you see on recyclable plastic and understand the importance of not contaminating the recycling system with non-recyclable plastics, which can get into the process and damage it.

What is plastic recycling?

Recycling plastic is a process that involves the conversion of waste plastic into useful materials. The process includes collecting the recyclable plastics, sorting them according to their respective polymers (described below), and then melting them into pellets that can be used to make new items. Recycling of some plastic has been done since the 1970s and the process is an important contributor to protecting the environment. However, plastic is now swamping our systems and environment and we need to both use less and get better at reusing or recycling the plastic that we do create.

What can be recycled?

Here are the codes used for recyclable plastics.

plastic recycling codes

Type 1 is Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET). PET is widely used for drink bottles as it makes an excellent moisture barrier. When recycling PET the plastic containers are sorted by colour then then washed and flaked. Recycled plastic are passed through several treatment process to make them safe for food handling, including melt filtering and pelletizing.

Type 2 is High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE) which is particularly strong and durable. HDPE is used to make items such as plastic rulers, hula hoop rings, toiletry packaging containers, roadside curbs, benches, tables, and much more. HDPE containers do not transmit any chemicals to food and drink that are stored in them.

Type 3 is Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC), which is versatile and when recycled can be used to manufacture a variety of products. It is used to make packaging containers, electricity installation cables, rigid pipes, bank cards and synthetic leather amongst many items.

Type 4 is Low-Density Polyethylene (LDPE). LDPE is easy to process and recycle and is strong and flexible.

Type 5 is Polypropylene (PP) which is tough, heat-resistant, and versatile. It can be recycled to make reusable microwave containers, kitchen utensils, disposable food containers, and soft drink bottles. Its ability to withstand high temperatures makes it particularly useful.

Type 6 is polystyrene (PS) which again is versatile and mostly used in the manufacturing of clear plastics such as disposable cups, trays, packing containers, and egg cartons. It is much harder to recycle however than other recyclable plastics.

Type 7 covers other recyclable plastics including polycarbonate and polylactide. These are much more difficult to recycle but can be made into products such as riot shields, plastic toys, sunglass lenses, and automotive headlamps.

You can learn more about all of these online, a simple search for “types of recyclable plastic”) will throw up may links, including for example

Take action

This action is about increasing your knowledge and understanding of the huge problem we face around plastics and plastic pollution. Ideally we would remove plastic from our day to day use, but being pragmatic about it, recycling is key in the meantime. Take the time to understand the codes and types of plastic and you can help by ensuring that non-recyclable materials are kept out of the system.

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