Refuse and Recycling Blog

Plastics: What is and isn't Recyclable?

Posted on Tue, Jun 12, 2012 @ 09:00 AM

Recycle plastic bottles

Plastics are cost-effective, convenient, lightweight and relatively unbreakable, and they are used to manufacture many common products these days, from disposable and reusable food containers to toys. However, all plastics are not equal, and there are health and environmental concerns related to the widespread use of them. Environmental problems include the facts that the majority of plastics are made from petroleum, a predominantly imported and non-renewable resource and that plastic packaging creates significant waste, which is bulky and takes up a large volume of the space at landfill sites. Health issues are related to its use in food storage and cooking, when chemicals can leach into foods and drinks, and to plastics manufacturing and incineration which creates pollution and exposes employees of these facilities to toxic chemicals.

Not all plastic products can be recycled, and not all of the plastics that can be recycled are labeled with a recycling symbol, consisting of a triangle with a code number in it. Generally, only code one and code two-types of plastic are recycled. These code numbers correspond to the type of plastic:

Code 1 

This plastic is polyethylene terephthalate (PET) which is commonly used in plastic bottles and food and cosmetic containers. This type of plastic is recycled at the rate 23 percent, single-use applications. The extended reuse of these products leads to an increased risk of chemical leaching and bacterial growth.

Code 2 

This plastic is high density polyethylene (HDPE) which is commonly used in detergent bottles, grocery store bags and milk and fruit juice containers. With a recycle rate of 27 percent, these are the most commonly recycled plastic.

Code 3 

This plastic is polyvinyl chloride (PVC) which contains a significant amount of toxins and is commonly used in plastic wrap, window frames, cooking oil bottles, peanut butter jars, blister packs and blood storage bags. Less than one percent of pvc products are recycled.

Code 4

This plastic is low density polyethylene (LDPE) which is commonly used in heavy duty bags, bread wrappers and squeezable bottles. Less than one percent of LDPE products are recycled.

Code 5 

This plastic is polypropylene (PP) which is commonly used in medicine bottles, straws, packing tape and potato chip bags. Three percent of PP products are recycled.

Code 6 

This plastic is polystyrene (PS) which is commonly used in foam packaging, CD, DVD and video cases and plastic cutlery. less than one percent of PS products are recycled. These products can leak styrene, a human carcinogen.

Code 7 

This plastic is polycarbonate (Other PC) which is commonly used in baby bottles, water cooler bottles and car parts. Less than one percent of Other PC products are recycled. These products can leach Bisphenol A, which causes chromosonal damage.

Key Takeaways:

  • Plastics are cost-effective, convenient, lightweight and relatively unbreakable, and they are used to manufacture many common products.
  • Not all plastic products can be recycled.
  • There are seven code numbers that relate to different types of plastic.

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