7 Types of Plastic that You Need to Know

Plastic isn’t as simple as you may think. Each one of them is different from the others. Some of them are reusable, the others produce hazardous material after several uses. Some are easily recyclable, others need more sophisticated and intricate handlings in its recycling process.

Take your nearest plastic product, maybe the lunch box you brought from home, your water bottle, your instant noodle cup. Study closely, and you might find a number at its back or bottom.

You probably already know what it is. The number indicates the type of plastic used to make the product you are holding right now. But do you know exactly what number you should avoid and what number holds the biggest chance of damaging the environment?

To summarize, there are 7 types of plastic exist in our current modern days:

1 – Polyethylene Terephthalate Plastic Type (PET or PETE or Polyester)

Polyethylene Terephthalate or PET is also known as a wrinkle-free fiber. It’s different from the plastic bag that we commonly see at the supermarket. This type of plastic polymer is mostly used for food and drink packaging purposes, due to its strong ability to prevent oxygen from getting in and spoiling the product inside. It also helps to keep the carbon dioxide in carbonated drinks from getting out.

Although PET is most likely to be picked up by recycling programs, this type of plastic contains antimony trioxide—a matter that is considered as a carcinogen—capable of causing cancer in a living tissue.

 PET Bottles - Source: Mould and Die World Magazine
PET Bottles – Source: Mould and Die World Magazine

The longer a liquid is left in a PET container the greater the potential for the release of the antimony. Warm temperatures inside cars, garages, and enclosed storage could also increase the release of the hazardous matter.

7 kode resin plastik
Plastic Resin Symbol

2 – High-Density Polyethylene Plastic Type (HDPE)

types of plastic
HDPE – Source: Plastic Today

Quite special compared to the other types, High-Density Polyethylene plastic or HDPE has long virtually unbranched polymer chains which makes them really dense and thus, stronger and thicker from PET. HDPE is a plastic type commonly used as the grocery bag, opaque milk, juice container, shampoo bottles, and medicine bottle.

Not only recyclable, but HDPE is also relatively more stable than PET. It is considered a safer option for food and drinks use, although some studies have shown that it can leach estrogen-mimicking additive chemicals that could disrupt the human’s hormonal system when exposed to ultraviolet light.

3 – Polyvinyl Chloride Plastic Type (PVC)

PVC -  Source: Green & Growing
PVC – Source: Green & Growing

PVC is typically used in toys, blister wrap, cling wrap, detergent bottles, loose-leaf binders, blood bags, and medical tubing. This plastic type used to be the second most widely used plastic resin in the world (after polyethylene), before the manufacture and disposal process of PVC has been declared as the cause of serious health risks and environmental pollution issues.

In the term of toxicity, PVC is considered as the most hazardous plastic. The use of it may leach a variety of toxic chemicals such as bisphenol A (BPA), phthalates, lead, dioxins, mercury, and cadmium.

Several of the chemicals mentioned may cause cancer; it could also cause allergic symptoms in children and disrupt the human’s hormonal system. PVS is also rarely accepted by recycling programs. This is why PVC is better best to be avoided at all cost.

4 – Low-Density Polyethylene Plastic Type (LDPE)

types of plastic
LDPE plastic – Source: Polymer Solutions

As said before, Polyethylenes are the most used family of plastics in the world. This type of plastic has the simplest plastic polymer chemical structure, making it very easy and very cheap to process.

LDPE polymers have significant chain branching including long side chains making it less dense and less crystalline (structurally ordered) and thus a generally thinner more flexible form of polyethylene.

LDPE is mostly used for bags (grocery, dry cleaning, bread, frozen food bags, newspapers, garbage), plastic wraps; coatings for paper milk cartons and hot & cold beverage cups; some squeezable bottles (honey, mustard), food storage containers, container lids. Also used for wire and cable covering.

Although some studies have shown that LDPE could also cause unhealthy hormonal effects in humans, LDPE is considered as a safer plastic option for food and drink use. Unfortunately, this type of plastic is quite difficult to be recycled.

5 – Polypropylene Plastic Type (PP)

Stiffer and more resistant to heat, PP is widely used for hot food containers. Its strength quality is somewhere between LDPE and HDPE. Besides in thermal vests, and car parts, PP is also included in the disposable diaper and sanitary pad liners.

types of plastic
PP Plastic – Source: Chemical News

Same as LDPE, PP is considered a safer plastic option for food and drink use. It’s a good material for baby milk bottle, as long as made of food-grade plastic and identified as “BPA-free.”

Although it bears all those amazing qualities, PP isn’t quite recyclable and could also cause asthma and hormone disruption in human.

6 – Polystyrene Plastic Type (PS)

Polystyrene / styrofoam plastic

Polystyrene (PS) is the styrofoam we all commonly used for food containers, egg cartons, disposable cups and bowls, packaging, and also bike helmet.

When exposed with hot and oily food, PS could leach styrene that is considered as brain and nervous system toxicant. It could also affect genes, lungs, liver, and immune system. On top of all of those risks, PS has a low recycling rate.

7 – Other

Number 7 is for all plastics other than those identified by number 1-6 and also plastics that may be layered or mixed with other types of plastics, such as bioplastics.

Polycarbonate (PC) is the most common plastic in this category, isn’t used as much in recent years due to it being associated with bisphenol A (BPA).  PC is also known by various name: Lexan, Makrolon, and Makroclear.

Ironically, PC is typically used for baby bottles, sippy cups, water bottles, water gallon, metal food can liner,  ketchup container, and dental sealants. Due to its toxicity, several countries have banned the use of PC for baby bottles and infant formula packaging.

The BPA that contained inside PC have been linked to numerous health problems including chromosome damage in female ovaries, decreased sperm production in males, early onset of puberty, and various behavioural changes.

It has also been linked to altered immune function, sex reversal in frogs, impaired brain and neurological functions, cardiovascular system damage, adult-onset (Type II) diabetes, obesity, resistance to chemotherapy, increased risk of breast cancer, prostate cancer, infertility, and metabolic disorders.

Added with its very low recycle rate quality, PC is to be avoided at all cost.

3 Important Things!

Memorizing all of those 7 different types of plastic could be overwhelming, so here are several key points you need to remember:

  1. Though it varies between types, every single category of plastic could leach hazardous materials if put in an extreme situation such as extreme heat.
  2. 3 types of plastic that are considered as safer options among the others are Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET), High-Density Polyethylene (2-HDPE), and Polypropylene (5-PP).
  3. Although the experts are currently working on inventing the best method and strategy to recycle all of those types of plastic, the 2 types of plastic that are mostly picked up by the recycling programs are Polyethylene Terephthalate (1-PET) and High-Density Polyethylene (2-HDPE).

Reasons Why Not All Plastics Can Be Recycled

Although both are called plastic, not all types of plastic can be recycled. Many reasons could influence this. However, one of the fundamental reasons is the need for more facilities, technology, and funds to finance the recycling of certain types of plastic.

In addition, the market is less interested, and less profitable material values also affect. Therefore, some recycling plants will only take the type of plastic they need and ignore the rest.

Tackling the Problem of Plastic Waste in Indonesia

The massive use of plastic has been carried out since the 1950s. It has been applied to many things. One of the most common is to make containers or packages.

Quoted from the Ministry of Industry of the Republic of Indonesia, there were around 892 companies in the plastic packaging industry operating in 2018. Demand for plastic products also increased by an average of 5-6% in those years. Unfortunately, an increase in production not accompanied by an increase in waste management capacity can lead to an even bigger problem of plastic waste generation.

Several other efforts need to be considered to help support waste management which has yet to overcome the existing waste problem.

1. Reducing the Production of Packaging Waste

Manufacturers, business owners, and companies can work to reduce the amount of waste produced from the packaging used in their products. Some ways include using less plastic packaging materials or using more environmentally friendly packaging materials that can decompose naturally.

2. Packaging Waste Recycling

Both companies and consumers must contribute to as much packaging recycling as possible, such as preventing packaging from being disposed of and mixed with other waste and sending the waste to recycling facilities.

Companies can cooperate with specific recycling programs, such as Waste4Change, which provides In-Store Recycling services that can help you increase the recycling of materials from branded waste in all your business lines. Get complete information at w4c.id/ISR.

3. Packaging Innovation

The industry also needs to continue to innovate to develop more sustainable packaging. This solution includes using biodegradable packaging materials or packaging materials that can be recycled more efficiently.

4. Consumer Education

Initiatives such as clear packaging marking and environmental awareness campaigns can help raise consumer awareness about how to dispose of the packaging.

7 Types of Plastic that You Need to Know Infographic

types of plastic

Now you can choose the proper plastic type for food and drinks. Also you can avoid non foodgrade plastic due to its low recycle rate quality.

Don’t forget to separate your wastes responsibly. Don’t mix the organics with non-organics; do segregate the glass from the paper and plastic. It’ll help with the recycling process! Explore Waste4Change site to learn more about waste management.

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