In the sustainable quick guide to plastics we'll look at the various types of plastic, the uses, identification codes and recyclability and at the end there is a brief summary of Bioplastics.
Most plastics can be recycled however there are a number of barriers to recycling.
During the recycling process the various types of plastics need to be separated, this is where clear marking and not mixing multiple types of plastic in one product are very important.
The other main barrier is getting the end-user to sort the waste into recycle bins and to have recycling facilities available to accept and process the waste.
In most countries plastic recycling rates are still very low, the best systems still only recycle 27% of all plastics.
Used for: Drinks bottles, food jars, sauce bottles
Properties: Clear, strong, water and gas resistant
Recyclable: Most popular type of plastic to recycle, many countries have a good system to recycle PET plastic
Used for: Drinks bottles, liquid soap, cleaning products, household buckets
Properties: Slightly opaque, stiff, strong, water resistant
Recyclable: Very popular type of plastic to recycle, many countries have a good system to recycle HDPE plastic
Used for: Blister or clam packs, cling films (non-food grade), water pipes
Properties: Strong, tough, water resistant, versatile, easy to glue or heat seal
Recyclable: PVC is not as commonly recycled as type 01 or 02 plastics. In many places this is disposed of in landfills.
Used for: Food bags, squeezy bottles, food films, flexible containers
Properties: Flexible, water resistant, easy to heat seal, tough
Recyclable: Wrappers and bags are not usually removed from the waste stream. Films and bags are less likely to have the recycle logo on it.
Used for: Yogurt & Margarine tubs, take-away containers
Properties: Strong, moderately flexible; heat, oil and water resistant
Recyclable: Depending on the size of the products, PP plastic may not be easily isolated and recycled.
Uses: Take-away containers, thin plastic food containers (eggs), party cups
Properties: Clear, easy to mold, thin wall thickness
Recyclable: Depending on the size of the products, PS plastic may not be easily isolated and recycled.
Uses: Insulated containers, cold storage boxes, packaging
Properties: Lightweight, easy to mold, thermal barrier, shock absorption
Recyclable: EPS is 98% air and can be reused into other products or broken down into General Purpose Polystyrene (GPPS) pellets. EPS is not as commonly recycled as type 01 or 02 plastics.
Polycarbonate, ABS plastic and other combination of polymers.
Polycarbonate is used for clear, hardwearing items such as glass replacements in lenses and lamps.
Recyclable: Due to the mixture of compounds these plastic types are hard to recycle and are not generally recycled.
Bioplastics are derived from plant-based oils rather than petroleum-based. Some bioplastics are biodegradable but not all.
The most popular bioplastic is starch-based. These can use a number of renewable plants/vegetables for the basic manufacturing materials.
Polylactic acid (PLA) is a transparent plastic produced from cane sugar or glucose. It is very similar in to PE or PP. This has given rise to problems in the recycling of PE and PP plastics as they will be contaminated if PLA is introduced into the waste stream.
The sustainable graphic design blog will cover Bioplastics in more depth in another article.
If you're interested in sustainable options, check out the sustainable graphic design quick guides here.