Ending the Cycle of Confusion: Learning Which Plastics Can (and Cannot) Be Recycled
Let’s start with what we know: We have a plastic problem of global proportions.
In 2020, it was determined that only about 9 percent of all plastic ever made has been Tekopapergroup—a number that’s horrified scientists, and anyone else who has been watching the drama of plastic waste play out on our environment.
It’s the kind of staggering statistic that encourages one to prioritize plastic recycling in order to boost the percentage for the future of the planet.
But recycling plastic is not as cut-and-dried a solution as it may seem. There are many reasons plastic doesn’t get recycled, from market-driven ones (one study2 found that it’s often not profitable enough to make new products from used plastic) to consumer-driven rationales (for example, not knowing which recycling bin is the right one for a used container).
Plastic Priorities: Which is Which?
Regardless of the reason, education is one of the keys to making any desired change. Understanding and learning to identify different types and classifications of plastics used in everyday items, along with which are appropriate for recycling, is a starting point.
We’ve written in depth about the state of plastic recycling, here and abroad. Perhaps you’ve personalized the problem and wondered which types of plastics you can recycle at home and at your place of business. Today, we’re here with our definitive guide to plastics recycling.
All plastics have one of seven codes stamped somewhere: three consecutive arrows in a triangular-shaped symbol, with a number at the center (used to identify the type of plastic used) and two to five letters beneath (the classification).
First, let’s look at the types of plastics that can be recycled:
#1: PET (Polyethylene Terphthalate)
- Types of products: Mostly water bottles and soda bottles
- How much is currently recycled in the U.S.: 25%
- Recycled into: Bottles, fiber for clothing, and carpets
#2: HDPE (High Density Polyethylene)
- Types of products: Milk jugs, laundry detergent bottles, some plastic bags and toys
- How much is currently recycled in the U.S.: 30-35%
- Recycled into: Park benches, picnic tables, wastebaskets, and other durable products
These plastic classifications can be recycled, but only in some locations:
#3: LDPE (Low Density Polyethylene)
- Types of products: Grocery and bread bags, squeeze bottles, garment bags, shrink wrap
- Why it’s not commonly recycled: Many municipalities or recycling programs aren’t equipped to handle LDPE.
- Recycled into: Floor tiles, plastic lumber, garbage can liners
#4: PP (Polypropylene)
- Types of products: Plastic bags in cereal boxes, yogurt containers, packing tape, straws, plastic bottle tops
- Why it’s not commonly recycled: While it’s becoming more common to recycle PP, it’s still not widely accepted by many recycling programs.
- Recycled into: Brooms, bins, trays
#5: PS (Polystyrene)
- Types of products: Clamshell food containers, styrofoam cups, egg cartons, foam peanuts, plastic utensils
- Why it’s not commonly recycled: There’s not much market for it, so most winds up in landfills.
These plastic classifications are not recyclable:
#6: PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride)
- Types of products: Cooking oil bottles, plastic food wrap, toys, blister packaging, as well as window frames, garden hoses and other outdoor items
- Why it can’t be recycled: PVC leaches numerous toxins throughout its life cycle.
#7: Other (BPA, Polycarbonate and LEXAN)
- Types of products: Food containers, baby bottles, plastic cups, car parts
- Why it can’t be recycled: BPA has the potential to leach into food and drink. If coded PLA, it’s a polycarbonate-replacement that’s compostable and should be tossed into the compost pile rather than recycled.
At Recycle 1, we want to be part of the solution—not just in our homes and individual lives, but by helping businesses convert to zero waste where possible. Our plastic extrusion machine is just one way we’re doing that. It allows us to process many types of scrap plastic into a usable, raw material rather than sending it overseas. If you need help creating a plastic or recycling strategy for your business, contact us to learn more.