I have started to think a lot about plastic recycling recently. I know it sounds like a strange statement but hear me out. A recent statistic I tweeted about stated "There could be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050" this both amazed and shocked me.
How are we supposed to build a sustainable future if we have an ocean half filled with plastic?
One of the main issues with plastic recycling is the number of different types used in everyday packaging. Often these different types of plastic packaging cause confusion for home recyclers as well as a headache for recycling centers.
I have now started grouping my plastics by their Plastic Identification Code (PIC) before taking them to the recycling center in the hope that it will reduce some of the plastic leaking into the environment.
Below I will explain what the 7 types of plastics used in consumer packaging are, how they are recycled and what they can be recycled into.
Polyethylene Teraphthalate (PET) Bottles are probably the most widely recycled of all the plastics due to the fact that most disposable plastic bottles are made from it. These types of bottles and containers are meant for a one time only use and should not be reused for food or drink as the plastic can be pourus and easily build up bacteria.
PET Bottles are normally recycled into lower grade items like carpets, t-shirts, sweaters, fleece jackets, insulation for jackets and even sleeping bags.
High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE) is a relatively stiff plastic and is therefore used for items such as Milk cartons, detergent bottles and thicker plastic bags like the ones you use for freezing or shopping.
HDPE Plastics can be recycled back into bottles and even into 3D printing filament.
Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) is normally clear and comes in both flexible and rigid forms. Due to its clear nature, it is often used for clear food packing.
PVC is 100% recyclable and can be recycled back into the same items the PVC originally came from.
Polypropylene (PP) is both flexible, hard and semi-transparent making it ideal for creating medicine bottles, yogurt containers, and those microwaveable disposable dinners. PP is also used for soft drink bottle caps so make sure to not mix them in with the Type 1 PET bottles during recycling.
PP is a very flexible plastic and as such can be recycled back into many different products including clothing, food containers, and even speed bumps!
Polystyrene (PS) is used for creating those funny white packaging peanuts as well as items such as disposable cutlery and razors. You might even be able to find a few CD cases lying around the house that are made from PS, not to mention your smoke detector cover.
PS can be recycled into a whole array of items such as clothes hangers, park benches, flower pots, toys, rulers, stapler bodies, seedling containers and picture frames. However, PS is not normally accepted as a recycling material unless it is pre-separated and the recycling center is willing to take it.
Other (Often Polycarbonate or ABS)
Polycarbonate is virtually shatterproof which makes it ideal for producing reusable water bottles and trays as well as beverage and baby milk bottles.
Polycarbonate is 100% recyclable and can be recycled back into the same type of items that the original was sourced from.
I know recycling plastic can be complicated and the facility to do it correctly is not in place for the average home recycler but I would urge everyone to start thinking about how they can help to increase the amount of plastic we either reuse or recycle.
Feel free to hit me up on Twitter if you have any suggestions on how to improve the way in which we recycle plastic.