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What Are The Common Plastics?

Every day, in any way, we all come into contact with plastics of some type.
The list below describes some of the uses and the recycling potential of plastics. Think about how many of these are discarded into the garbage bin, having fulfilled their single use.

Think about how much energy has been used in the mining, capture, and conversion of the fossil resource. 

Think about how much energy has been used in the manufacture, distribution, product packaging, transport, display, purchase, use, and disposal of the plastics.

Then think about WHY this resource is not being re-used to its maximum potential.

PETE or PET Polyethylene terephthalate (Polyester)

Uses       Plastic bottles for soft drinks, water, juice, sports drinks, beer, mouthwash, sauce and salad dressing, food jars (e.g. peanut butter, honey, jam and pickles), ovenable film and microwavable food trays. In addition to packaging, PET’s major uses are textiles, monofilament carpet, strapping, films, and engineering mouldings.

Recycling Uses      Fibres for carpet, clothing, and bags. Containers, especially for food and beverage products. Plastic film, sheeting, and straps.      

HDPE (High density polyethylene)

Uses       Bottles for milk, water, juice, cosmetics, shampoo, kitchen and laundry detergents, household cleaners. Bags for groceries and retail purchases, cereal box liners. Reusable shipping containers. HDPE’s other major uses are in injection moulding applications, extruded pipe and conduit, plastic wood composites, and wire and cable covering.

Recycling Uses     Bottles for non-food items e.g. shampoo/conditioner, liquid laundry detergent, household cleaners, motor oil and antifreeze. Plastic wood for outdoor decking, fencing and picnic tables. Pipe, floor tiles, buckets, crates, flower pots, garden edging, film and sheet, and recycling bins.     

PVC (Polyvinyl chloride - PVC, Vinyl)

Uses       Rigid packaging applications e.g. blister packs. Flexible packaging e.g. bags for bedding, medical, shrink wrap, deli and meat wrap, and tamper resistant packs. PVC’s other major uses are rigid applications such as pipe, siding for buildings, window frames, fencing, decking and railing. Other flexible applications include medical products such as blood bags and medical tubing, wire and cable insulation, carpet backing, and flooring.

Recycling Uses       Pipe, decking, fencing, paneling, gutters, carpet backing, floor tiles and mats, resilient flooring, mud flaps, cassette trays, electrical boxes, cables, traffic cones, garden hose, mobile home skirting. Packaging, film and sheet, loose-leaf binders.

LDPE (Low density polyethylene)

Uses       Bags for ... dry cleaning, newspapers, bread, frozen foods, fresh produce, and household garbage. Shrink wrap and stretch film. Coatings for paper milk cartons and hot and cold beverage cups. Container lids. Toys. Squeezable bottles (e.g. honey and mustard). 
LDPE’s other major uses are in injection molding applications, adhesives and sealants, and wire and cable coverings.

Recycling Uses     Postal envelopes, garbage can liners, floor tiles, panelling, furniture, film and sheet, compost bins, trash cans, landscape timber, and outdoor furniture and decking.      

PP (Polypropylene)

Uses     Containers for yogurt, margarine, takeaway meals, deli foods. Medicine bottles, bottle caps and closures. Bottles for sauce and syrup. PP’s other major uses are in fibres, appliances and consumer products, including durable applications such as automotive and carpeting.        

Recycling Uses     Automobile applications (e.g. battery cases, signal lights, battery cables), brooms and brushes, ice scrapers, oil funnels, bicycle racks, garden rakes, storage bins, shipping pallets, sheeting, trays.       

PS (Polystyrene)

Uses     Food service items, such as cups, plates, bowls, cutlery, hinged takeout containers (clamshell type), meat and poultry trays, rigid food containers (e.g., yoghurt). These items may be made with foamed or non-foamed PS. Protective foam packaging for furniture, electronics and other delicate items. Packing beads/peanuts, known as “loose fill.” Compact disc cases, aspirin bottles. PS’s other major uses are in agricultural trays, electronic housings, cable spools, building insulation, video cassette cartridges, coat hangers, medical products, and toys.

Recycling Uses     Thermal insulation, thermometers, light switch plates, vents, desk trays, rulers, and license plate frames. Cameras or video cassette casings. Foamed food-service applications (e.g. egg shell cartons). Plastic mouldings (i.e., wood replacement products). Expandable polystyrene (EPS) foam protective packaging.


Uses       Other plastics including acrylic, polycarbonate, polylactic acid (corn plastic), polyurethane, nylon, and fibreglass. Reusable water bottles, some citrus juice and sauce bottles. Oven baking bags, barrier layers, and custom packaging. Automotive, aircraft, boating, furniture, electrical and medical parts.

Recycling Uses       Agricultural piping, furniture fittings, wheels and castors, fence posts, pallets, plastic wood applications, marine structures.


Look at the photo below. Each of the containers is marked with a Plastics Identification Code.

The small bag on the left is marked as #4 PE-LD … Polyethylene Low Density. In Australia the acronym LDPE is used.

The take-away food container is #5 and so is the small black biscuit pack. They both look and feel very different, but they are the same plastic - Polypropylene (PP).

The clear plastic container is used for biscuits, but this is #3 - Polyvinyl chloride (PVC).

Of these four containers, which would you place in your recycling bin? 
All but the flexible bag can be sent for recycling. But what do you do with the flexible bag, and indeed all plastic bags (e.g. bread bags, discarded shopping bags, plastic wrappings, building plastics)?

Here's another example.

Four plastic containers

The two upper containers are #1 (PET) - used for screws and food respectively.

The two lower containers are #6 (PS) and #5 (PP) respectively, both used for food.

All containers are recyclable.


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