What Plastics Are Recyclable

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what plastics are recyclable
Dr Ayub Macharia

Would you like to know what plastics are recyclable? Read and find out more.

what plastics are recyclable

Plastic stool

Plastics have become a way of life for many people and has many uses. Due to multiple uses and ease of making plastic items from petroleum, plenty of plastics are released to people, as packaging materials or as parts of equipments and machinery.

The packaging material is available to many people and is normally thrown away indiscriminately after use. This leads to environmental pollution. Some of the plastic litter is washed to the rivers and finally into oceans and is a threat to aquatic and marine life because they resemble food and cause choking or starvation if ingested.

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Some plastics are recyclable while others are not. In many cases, there is inadequate public awareness on the kind of plastics that fall into each category (recyclable and non-recyclable). The technical aspects of plastics is also abstract and most first hand information on recyclable/non-recyclable plastics is only readily available by the recyclers since they are the main industry players.  To enhance recycling and decision making on phase out of non-recyclable plastics, interaction with the recyclers is crucial.

Polystyrene and other non-recyclable plastics are a serious source of marine debris pollution. Many of these plastics lightweight and aerodynamic, so they are easily blown by wind and float in water. They are also very brittle, so when littered they quickly break into smaller and smaller pieces making cleanup impossible.

Many of these products are not recycled in many developed countries. Most recycling programs do not accept food containers made of polystyrene and other non-recyclable plastics. Their presence in waste loads contaminate recycling and are often accidentally littered in transportation. Hence polystyrene and other non-recyclable plastic litter must be stopped at source.

What plastics are recyclable?

People should go for alternative food packaging material that is compostable or recyclable which is even cost-competitive, and also cheaper.
There are six common types of plastics. Following are some typical products you will find for each of plastic:

PS (Polystyrene)

Polystyrene is made by polymerizing styrene. Polystyrene is a versatile plastic used to make a wide variety of consumer products. It is inert, durable, resistant to water damage, and cost-effective. It is also mixed with other substances to make appliances, electronics, automobile parts, toys, gardening pots and equipment and more.

Polystyrene is also made into a foam material, called expanded polystyrene (EPS) or extruded polystyrene (XPS), to make good insulating and cushioning material.

Foam polystyrene can be more than 95 percent air and is widely used in insulation, lightweight protective packaging, surfboards, foodservice and food packaging, automobile parts, roadway and roadbank stabilization systems and more.


  • Appliances such as refrigerators, air conditioners, ovens, microwaves, vacuum cleaners, blenders.
  • Car parts such as knobs, instrument panels, trim, child protective seats, energy absorbing door panels and sound dampening foam. 
  • Electronic gadgets such as parts for televisions, computers and all types of IT equipment. 
  • Food packaging containers
  • Thermal insulation in building walls and roofing, refrigerators and freezers, and industrial cold storage facilities.
  • Medical tissue culture trays, test tubes, petri dishes, diagnostic components, housings for test kits and medical devices.
  • Packaging consumer products such as CD and DVD cases, foam packaging peanuts for shipping, food packaging, meat/poultry trays and egg cartons.

PP (Polypropylene)

Polypropylene (PP) is a thermoplastic “addition polymer” made from the combination of propylene monomers. It is used in a variety of applications to include packaging for consumer products and plastic parts for various industries. These includes

  • Packaging material such as crates, bottles, pots, lunch boxes, take-out food containers, ice cream containers
  • Household products and consumer goods such as housewares, furniture, appliances, luggage, toys etc.
  • Automotive parts such as battery cases and trays, bumpers, fender liners, interior trim, instrumental panels and door trims.
  • Medical appliances such as medical vials, diagnostic devices, petri dishes, intravenous bottles, specimen bottles, food trays, pans, pill containers, etc.

Polypropylene is used in both household and industrial applications. Its has a unique property and ability to adapt to various fabrication techniques making it able to function as both a plastic material and as a fiber. It is hence used as  promotional tote bags that are given away at events or during shopping.

LDPE (Low-density polyethylene)

Its toughness, flexibility and relative transparency make it good for packaging applications requiring heat-sealing. LDPE has an excellent resistance to acids, bases and vegetable oils.

LDPE is used to make many thin, flexible products like trays; plastic bags for dry-cleaning, newspapers, bread, frozen foods, fresh produce and garbage; general purpose containers; disposable beverage cups; corrosion-resistant work surfaces; snap-on lids; juice and milk cartons; packaging for computer hardware, such as hard disk drives, screen cards, and optical disc drives; playground slides; plastic wraps; garbage bins; thin container lids, squeezable bottles and some toys.

LDPE is recycled into shipping envelopes, garbage can liners, floor tiles, paneling, furniture, compost bins, trashcans, landscape timber and outdoor lumber.

PVC (Plasticised Polyvinyl chloride or polyvinyl chloride)

Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC or Vinyl) is a high strength thermoplastic material and third-most widely produced synthetic plastic polymer. Its products include plastic pipes; doors; windows; bottles; non-food packaging; cards (such as bank or membership cards); plumbing; electrical cable insulation; imitation leather; flooring; signage; phonograph records; canvas.

HDPE (High-density polyethylene)

High-density polyethylene is a polymer of ethylene, produced at high temperatures and pressures.

HDPE products include plastic for milk cartons; laundry detergent;  garbage bins; cutting boards; shampoo containers;  milk bottles; 3D printer filament; backpacking frames; bottle caps; boats; chemical-resistant piping; conduit protector for electrical or communications cable; corrosion protection for steel pipelines; electrical and plumbing boxes; folding chairs and tables; food storage containers; fuel tanks for vehicles; geothermal heat transfer piping systems; microwave telescope windows; natural gas distribution pipe systems; piping for fluid, slurry and gas purposes; plastic bags; plastic bottles suitable both for recycling (such as milk jugs) or re-use; plastic lumber; plastic surgery (skeletal and facial reconstruction); potable water mains; sewage mains; storage sheds; swimming pool installation; water pipes for domestic water supply and agricultural processes.

PET (Polyethylene terephthalate)

Polyethylene terephthalate, commonly abbreviated as PET is a thermoplastic polymer resin of the polyester family. It is commonly used in making clothing (polyester fabric), containers for liquids and foods among other uses. Globally, over 60% PET is used for production of synthetic fibres and 30% for containers/bottles production.

PET is popularly used for packaging food and beverages, pharmaceutical and personal care products due to its inert, moisture barrier material and shatterproof nature. PET is also light weight and is therefore easier to transport. PET is 100% recyclable and is ranked the most recycled plastic in the world.

Products include bottles; plastic containers; bakery products, peanut butter jars; frozen foods packaging; cosmetics containers; storage of chemicals and household cleaners.

Some plastic types are not recycled because they are not economically feasible to do so.

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