This week we have touched the 3 most shouted about problems with plastics: PVC, Phtalates and BPA. But being surrounded by plastics in cars, toys, packaging, clothing, home goods, food utensils, medical devices and so much moreI think it is really useful to offer some more clarity in the different types and how their use affects our environment. And if avoiding them is impossible how to recycle them and avoid littering our streets, clogging our waterways and choking marine life.
There are 7 main plastics types, grouped based on how they can be recycled. So if you have plastic, it should have the recycling symbol embossed and a number inside. In most cases where there is no number embossed it is PVC.
Recycling 1 Plastics – PET or PETE
Found in: Soft drink and water bottles; mouthwash bottles; dressing and vegetable oil containers; ovenable food trays.
Recycling: Picked up through most councils recycling programs.
Recycled into: Mainly every type of textile made of Polyester. If it is recycled material it will clearly state rPet instead of regular Polyester PES.
PET plastic is the most common for single-use bottled beverages, because it is inexpensive, lightweight and easy to recycle. It poses low risk of leaching breakdown products. Recycling rates remain relatively low (around 20%), though the material is in high demand by remanufacturers.
Recycling Symbol 2 Plastics – HDPE
(High Density PolyEthylene)
Found in: Milk jugs; bleach, detergent and household cleaner bottles; shampoo bottles; some trash and shopping bags; butter and yogurt tubs; cereal box liners
Recycling: Picked up through most recycling programs, although some allow only those containers with necks.
Recycled into: Laundry detergent bottles, oil bottles, pens, recycling containers, floor tile, drainage pipe, lumber, benches, doghouses, picnic tables, fencing
HDPE is a versatile plastic with many uses, especially for packaging. It carries low risk of leaching and is readily recyclable into many goods.
Recycling Symbol 3 Plastics – PVC
V (Vinyl) or PVC
Found in: Window cleaner and detergent bottles, shampoo bottles, cooking oil bottles, clear food packaging, wire jacketing, medical equipment, siding, windows, piping
Recycling: Rarely recycled; accepted by some plastic lumber makers.
Recycled into: Decks, paneling, mudflaps, roadway gutters, flooring, cables, speed bumps, mats
PVC is tough and weathers well, so it is commonly used for piping, siding and similar applications. PVC contains chlorine, so its manufacture can release highly dangerous dioxins. These dioxins spread in the air and are moved by wind and breath in by any living creature, thus damaging the entire biosphere.
If you must cook with PVC, don’t let the plastic touch food. Also never burn PVC, because it releases toxins.
Recycling Symbol 4 Plastics – LDPE
(Low Density PolyEthylene)
Found in: Squeezable bottles; bread, frozen food, dry cleaning and shopping bags; tote bags; clothing; furniture; carpet
Recycling: LDPE is not often recycled through curbside programs, but some communities will accept it. Plastic shopping bags can be returned to many stores for recycling.
Recycled into: Trash can liners and cans, compost bins, shipping envelopes, paneling, lumber, landscaping ties, floor tile
LDPE is a flexible plastic with many applications. Historically it has not been accepted through most councils recycling programs, but more and more communities are starting to accept it.
Recycling Symbol 5 Plastics – PP
Found in: Some yogurt containers, syrup bottles, ketchup bottles, caps, straws, medicine bottles
Recycling: Number 5 plastics can be recycled through some curbside programs.
Recycled into: Signal lights, battery cables, brooms, brushes, auto battery cases, ice scrapers, landscape borders, bicycle racks, rakes, bins, pallets, trays
Polypropylene has a high melting point, and so is often chosen for containers that must accept hot liquid. It is gradually becoming more accepted by recyclers.
Recycling Symbol 6 Plastics – PS
Found in: Disposable plates and cups, meat trays, egg cartons, carry-out containers, aspirin bottles, compact disc cases
Recycling: Number 6 plastics can be recycled in some councils.
Recycled into: Insulation, light switch plates, egg cartons, vents, rulers, foam packing, carry-out containers
Polystyrene can be made into rigid or foam products — in the latter case it is popularly known as the trademark Styrofoam. Evidence suggests polystyrene can leach potential toxins into foods. The material was long on environmentalists’ hit lists for dispersing widely across the landscape, and for being notoriously difficult to recycle. Most places still don’t accept it, though it is gradually gaining traction.
Recycling Symbol 7 Plastics
Found in: Three- and five-gallon bottles, ‘bullet-proof’ materials, sunglasses, DVDs, iPod and computer cases, signs and displays, certain food containers, nylon
Recycling: Number 7 plastics have traditionally not been recycled, though some curbside programs now take them.
A wide variety of plastic resins that don’t fit into the previous categories are lumped into number 7. A few are even made from plants (polyactide) and are compostable. Polycarbonate is number 7, and is the hard plastic that has parents worried these days, after studies have shown it can leach potential hormone disruptors (as Polycarbonate has BPA in it).
I am working on a post where I am linking all this information to Toys and the toy industry. You could all help by letting me know which symbols you can find on toys around your house! I will do the same!