The seven types of plastic and their uses

August 9, 2019 | Environment
Plastics: seven types, seven recycling codes | Photo: Shutterstock

Plastic was invented by Belgian chemist Leo Baekeland, in New York, in 1907.

The "father of the plastics industry," as he is often called, created an inexpensive and versatile material that can be used in a wide range of products, and nearly any human activity.

The rise of the plastic era became a reality - and a serious new problem - in the 1950s.

Since then, the world produced 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic, the majority of which still exists on the surface of the Earth.

Unfortunately, a large part ends up in the world's oceans, entering the food chain and killing marine life.

There are seven types of plastic. Each one serves different purposes:

Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET or PETE) | Recycle Code: 1

Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET or PETE) | Recycle Code: 1

PET was patented in 1941, and it is the most common thermoplastic polymer resin of the polyester family.

It is used to produce soda bottles, water bottles, polyester film, containers for food, jars, fibers for clothing, and even carpets.

It can be recycled.

High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE) | Recycle Code: 2

High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE) | Recycle Code: 2

HDPE is a strong and moderately stiff plastic.

It is used to produce milk jugs, juice containers, grocery and trash bags, motor oil containers, shampoo and conditioner bottles, soap bottles, detergent containers, bleach containers, and toys.

It can be recycled.

Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) | Recycle Code: 3

Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) | Recycle Code: 3

PVC is the third most common plastic on the planet.

This rigid plastic formula is used to produce plumbing and sewage pipes, window frames, non-food packaging, cards, electrical cable insulation, flooring, and phonograph records.

It can be recycled around seven times.

Low-Density Polyethylene (LDPE) | Recycle Code: 4

Low-Density Polyethylene (LDPE) | Recycle Code: 4

LDPE was first produced by in 1933.

It is used in plastic bags, computer components, trays, six-pack rings, milk and juice cartons, packaging for computer hardware, Ziploc frozen food bags,

It can be recycled in specific centers; otherwise, it may contaminate an entire batch of plastic.

Polypropylene (PP) | Recycle Code: 5

Polypropylene (PP) | Recycle Code: 5

PP was first polymerized in 1951 by chemists J. Paul Hogan and Robert Banks.

It is more heat resistant and slightly harder than polyethylene and is used to produce flip-top bottles, plastic diapers, Tupperware containers, margarine tubs, yogurt containers, prescription bottles, bottle caps, and even chairs.

It can be recycled.

Polystyrene (PS) | Recycle Code: 6

Polystyrene (PS) | Recycle Code: 6

PS is one of the most widely used types of plastic, but it biodegrades slowly.

It can be used to produce CD and DVD cases, packing peanuts, single-use disposable cutlery, trays, disposable razors, and smoke detector housings.

Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) can be recycled.

Other/Miscellaneous Plastics | Recycle Code: 7

Other/Miscellaneous Plastics | Recycle Code: 7

The "Other" plastic category is catch-all for all polycarbonate (PC), Bisphenol A-based (BPA), and remaining types of plastic.

These plastics are used to produce baby feeding bottles, car parts, water cooler bottles, and sippy cups.

These plastics cannot be recycled.


Learn how to reduce the use of plastics.

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