What Plastic Products Can I Recycle?
Plastic recycling is the process of recovering scrap or waste plastics and reprocessing the material into useful products. Compared to glass or metallic materials, plastic poses unique challenges – because of the massive number of types of plastic, they each carry a resin identification code, and must be sorted before they can be recycled. This can be costly – while metals can be sorted using electromagnets, no such ‘easy sorting’ capability exists for plastics. In addition to this, while labels do not need to be removed from bottles for recycling, lids are often made from a different kind of non-recyclable plastic.
Recycling statistics on plastic:
· Americans use 4 million plastic bottles every hour, but only 25% of plastic bottles are recycled
· Every year we make enough plastic film to shrink-wrap Texas
· Americans go through 25 billion plastic bottles every year.
· 26 recycled PET bottles equals a polyester suit. 5 recycled PET bottles make enough fiberfill to stuff a ski jacket.
· In 1988 we used 2 billion pounds of HDPE just to make bottles for household products. That’s about the weight of 90,000 Honda Civics.
· If every American household recycled just one out of every ten HDPE bottles they used, we’d keep 200 million pounds of the plastic out of landfills every year.
· Almost every hour, nearly 250,000 plastic bottles are dumped. It is not surprising that plastic bottles constitute close to 50% of recyclable waste in the dumps.
· The average time taken by plastic bottles to decompose in a landfill is close to 700 years.
· Plastic not only adds to landfill space and takes forever to decompose. Used plastic dumped into the sea kills and destroys sea life at an estimated 1,000,000 sea creatures per year!
Plastic is a versatile synthetic material and has integrated itself in human usage over the years. We wrap our food in it, store items in it, drink from it and eat off it, we have parties surrounded by plastic and even wear it; of all this plastic only 3 to 5 percent is recycled in America. Much of the rest of this plastic goes into landfills and takes 200 – 400 years to decompose.
Type 1 Plastic – Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET, PETE) PET and PETE plastic can be recycled into carpet yarns, fiberfill, tote bags, food and drink containers, luggage and clothing.
Type 2 Plastic – High Density Polyethylene (HDPE) Examples of recycling codes for HDPE plastic are seen below. The “PE-HD” symbol is often used by plastic bag industries.
Type 3 Plastic – Vinyl or Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) Examples of PVC plastic recycling codes can be seen below.
Type 4 Plastic – Low Density Polyethylene (LDPE) Examples of LDPE plastic recycling codes can be seen below. The “PE-LD” recycling codes are often used by plastic bag manufacturers.
Type 5 Plastic – Polypropylene (PP) The acronym PP (Polypropylene) is used to refer to type 5 plastic. PP plastic is used extensively for packaging purposes. Given its high melting point and good chemical resistance, it is also used to contain hot-fill liquids, and molded in automotive parts. Examples of PP plastic recycling codes can be seen below.
Type 6 Plastic – Polystyrene (PS) Examples of PS plastic recycling codes can be seen below.
Type 7 Plastic – Others
Examples of PS plastic recycling codes can be seen below.
Are all types plastic recyclable? The ease of recycling the various types of plastic differs.
Type 1 plastic (PET and PETE) and Type 2 plastic (HDPE) are easy to recycle and poses low risk of leaching breakdown products.
Type 3 plastic (PVC) contains chlorine, and hence, in its manufacture, as well as its disposal (eg. incineration), highly dangerous and toxic gases are released. Hence, type 3 plastic are rarely recycled.
Type 4 plastic (LDPE) are historically not accepted by most American curbside recycling programs. Nevertheless, more and more communities are starting to accept it these days.
Type 5 plastic (PP) are also gradually becoming more accepted by recyclers.
Type 6 plastic (PS), such as Styrofoam, leach toxins and are very difficult to recycle.
Given the high cost of recycling, type 3 to 7 plastics are rarely recycled.
If you wish to make a difference to the environment, you should try to send your Type 1 and 2 plastics for recycling as much as possible. You should also try to reduce your consumption of Type 3 to 7 plastics, as toxins are usually released in their production, use and disposal.