Our world is full of different types of plastics. Whether we see it or not, practically everything around us is entirely or partly plastic material. Plastic is an essential component of our lives. Therefore, knowing the difference and the SPI codes will help you make more informed decisions about recycling.
Plastic isn’t as simple as one may think. There are different types of plastics. Few of them are reusable; the others produce hazardous material after several uses. Some are easily recyclable, and others need more sophisticated and intricate handling in its recycling process. Manufacturers of plastic utilize a variety of different plastic materials and compounds that each possess unique properties.
All plastics have several identifications associated with them. The Society of the Plastics Industry introduced these numbers in 1988 to help people know which plastics are recyclable and how to dispose of them properly.
Different types of Plastic
We have curated a list of the seven different types of plastic everyone must know to make better recycling decisions.
Polyethene terephthalate (PETE or PET)
PET being the most widely produced plastic in the world, It is used as a fibre (known as “polyester”) and bottling or packaging.
The plastic is used to make disposable bottles, such as water bottles and soda bottles. This plastic can absorb odours from the item stored inside it.
The plastic is most likely to be picked up by recycling programs, and this plastic contains antimony trioxide. This matter is considered a carcinogen which is capable of causing cancer in living tissue of humans. The longer a PET container liquid, the greater the potential for the antimony release. Warm temperatures and enclosed storage could also increase the hazardous matter release. PET plastics make up 96% of all plastic bottles and containers in the United States, yet only 25% of these products are recycled.
High-Density Polyethene (HDPE). HDPE was first used for pipes in storm sewers, drains, and ditches. In today’s world, this plastic is used for a wide range of products and items.
Being the most commonly recycled plastic out of different types of plastic, it will not break under extreme heat or cold exposure. According to the EPA findings, 12% of all HDPE products created are recycled in a year. This is a tiny dent in the planet’s carbon footprint.
Not only recyclable, but HDPE is also relatively more stable than PET. It is considered a safer option for food and drinks use. However, some studies have shown that it can leach estrogen-mimicking additive chemicals that could disrupt humans’ hormonal system when exposed to ultraviolet light.
However, it is known that 12% of all HDPE products are recycled in a year. Hence it’s wise to cut down its use, as this durable product also ends up in landfills and our oceans.
Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC)
PVC is used in toys, blister wrap, detergent bottles, cling wrap, blood bags loose-leaf binders and medical tubing. In the earlier days, PVC used to be the second most widely used plastic resin in the world (after polyethene), before the manufacture and disposal process of PVC has been declared a cause of severe health risks and environmental pollution issues.
PVC is one of the least recycled materials; less than 1% of PVC plastic is recycled each year. It is known as “poison plastic” because it contains large amounts of toxins and is one of the most harmful plastic out of 7 different types of plastics.. The use of it may lead to the release of several toxic chemicals such as bisphenol A (BPA), lead, phthalates, dioxins, mercury, and cadmium. Several of the substances mentioned above may cause cancer; it could also cause allergic symptoms in children and disrupt the human’s hormonal system. Another shortcoming is PVS is also rarely accepted by recycling programs. It is better best to be avoided at all costs.
Low-Density Polyethylene (LDPE)
Polyethylenes are the most used form of plastics around the globe. LDPE was the first polyethene to be created. It has lighter mass than HDPE, which is why it’s considered a separate cloth for recycling.
LDPE plastic is mostly used to create bags (grocery, bread, frozen food bags, newspapers, garbage), plastic wraps; dry cleaning, coatings for paper milk cartons and hot & cold beverage cups; some squeezable bottles (honey, mustard), food storage containers, container lids.
Although studies have concluded that LDPE could cause harmful hormonal effects, it is considered a safe plastic option for storing food and drinks. Unfortunately, this type of plastic is quite challenging to be recycled. This means fewer amounts of LDPE will end up in the landfills.
Polypropylene (PP) is one of the seven different types of plastic. Due to it’s Stiffer and more resistant nature to heat, PP is widely used for hot food containers. Its strength quality can be measured somewhere between LDPE and HDPE. Along with thermal vests and car parts, PP is also used in the disposable diaper and sanitary-pad liners.
Just like LDPE, PP has also considered a safer plastic option for food and drink use. And although it bears all those unique qualities, PP isn’t entirely recyclable and could even cause fatal diseases like asthma and hormone disruption in human.
About 3% of polypropylene products are recycled, but interestingly enough, 325 million pounds of non-bottle plastics were collected for recycling over a year. A lot of this plastic is created. However, only a small fraction is recycled.
Polystyrene is the Polystyrene is the Styrofoam, commonly used for food containers, egg cartons, disposable cups and bowls, packaging, and things like a bike helmet. It is an inexpensive, lightweight and easily-formed plastic with a wide variety of uses.
Because of it’s structurally weak and ultra-lightweight nature, it tends to break up quickly and is readily dispersed throughout the core. You can now find bits of Polystyrene swaddled at the shores. Many marine species have ingested this plastic, causing immeasurable fatal consequences to their health and the environment.
If exposed to hot and oily food, PS could leach styrene, which is considered the brain and nervous system toxicant; it could also cause immeasurable affect one’s genes, the immune system, lungs, and liver all those risks, PS also has a low recycling rate. Polystyrene plastic accounts for about 35% of US landfill materials.
Miscellaneous Plastics (nylon, styrene, fibreglass, etc.)
Number 7 is for all plastics not identified by number 1-6 and plastics that may be layered or mixed with different types of plastics, such as bioplastics. Polycarbonate (PC) is the most common plastic; it isn’t used in recent years due to its being associated with bisphenol A (BPA). PC is also known by several names like Lexan, Makrolon, and Makroclear. Ironically, PC is typically used for baby bottles, sippy cups, water bottles, water gallon, metal food can liner, a ketchup container, and dental sealants. Due to its toxicity, several countries have banned PC for baby bottles and infant formula packaging.
The BPA that contained inside PC has been linked to numerous health problems and fatal diseases like chromosome damage in female ovaries, early onset of puberty, decreased sperm production in males, various behavioural changes, sex reversal in frogs, altered immune function impaired brain and neurological functions, adult-onset (Type II) diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular system damage, increased risk of breast cancer, prostate cancer, resistance to chemotherapy, metabolic disorders and infertility.
Scientists worldwide are working on discovering and inventing the best method to recycle all different types of plastic. Still, in conclusion, the two different types of plastic that are mostly picked up by the recycling programs as of today are Polyethylene Terephthalate (1-PET) and High-Density Polyethylene (2-HDPE).