Plastic really is plastic, right? Consider it over again.
Plastic goods are broken down into seven different classifications by the EPA. Cups of coffee, cups of yogurt and containers for takeovers all fall into separate categories. And, differently, each plastic must be recycled, or not recycled.
The 7 plastics groups are characterized by their varying chemical compositions. Waste management officials have simplified these categories by using the numbers 1 to 7 to make things easier for consumers.
So why divide plastics into those categories?
Recycling capacity for each type of plastic varies among recycling facilities. Many recycling facilities lack the operational capacity to sort, recycle and repurpose all 7 plastics forms.
What many people fail to realize is that most of the plastic waste is exported by the US. The waste was historically shipped to China by the U.S. But the Chinese government recently enacted a policy to restrict international recycled waste imports. The policy also sets strict standards for contamination of the waste which they will continue to import.
This approach created a major issue for the recycling facilities in the United States. Domestic buildings are now collapsing under plastic waste dumps. Many recyclables are then sent to the incinerator or landfill.
For fact, most recycling plants do not consider plastic forms 3 through 7 any more. Such plastics usually dispose of high levels of waste. They would likely fail to meet the contamination standards under China's new policy.
How to recycle at home
Virtually every manufacturer marks plastic products to signify their type.
They set out to describe the seven different types of plastics. This will help you understand the significance of these marks, and note the plastics are part of recycling and which plastics are part of the garbage.
Sorting your recyclables correctly at home will considerably streamline the recycling process at the curbside. That may sound like a small act. But it saves time in recycling facilities and improves performance.
Form 1–Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET or PETE)
This is a lightweight material widely used for food and beverage packaging, commonly known as polyester. Also, this plastic can well trap gas and humidity.
Type 1 plastics are usually used for containers of soda, beer, fruit juice, and cooking oil, due to these properties. PET plastics are also used in peanut butter and jam jars, as well as microwaveable trays.
Plastics of type 1 do face potential health risks. Studies have found the PET bottles are capable of leaching endocrine disrupters. A study was undertaken by researchers to test estrogenic activity in mineral water stored in water bottled with PET. Results showed that 78 percent of different mineral water brands packaged in PET bottles had increased estrogen activity.
Can these be recycled? Yes
Type 2–High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE)
As the name suggests, polyethylene of high density is a dense, robust material.
The HDPEs are stronger than plastics of category 1, PET. Type 2 plastic containers are used for cleaning liquids and materials, due to their sturdy design. These might include shampoo bottles, laundry detergent, and household cleaner. Certain rising bottled products made from HDPE include containers of milk, tea, and fruit.
Form 2 plastics can be used to make building materials. These materials include injection molding, composites of plastic wood, and covering of wire and cables.
Can these be recycled? Sure
Type 3–Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC)
PVC is a plastic with multiple facets. Manufacturers of building products use PVC to do piping. PVC plastic is also used in "Clamshell" containers, lunch boxes, 3-ring binders, toys, and medical tubing.
PVCs possess potentially harmful substances, according to the National Institute of Health (NIH).
PVC plastics are exposing people to ammonia, BPAs, and phthalates. Phthalates are known to be endocrine disrupting agents. The Washington Post writes that asthma and learning disabilities have also been linked.
Some advocacy groups think BPAs are harmful. Nonetheless, NPR notes that a recent National Toxicology Program study found evidence to be contrary. New studies offer evidence that BPAs are not associated with hyperactivity disorder disease, obesity, and attention deficit.
Can these be recycled? No
Type 4: plastic Low Density Polyethylene (LDPE)
LDPE is lightweight and versatile in shape. It is completely clear and has heat sealing capabilities. LDPE is commonly used in plastic packaging, because of these properties.
LDPE plastic applications usually include dry cleaning containers, shrink wrap, and paper milk cartons and coffee cup coatings. Type 4 plastics are also used to make condiments in squeezable bottles.
It is important to note that paper coffee cups and cartons with milk often seem recyclable. The plastic lining inside the containers, usually LDPE plastic, does however make them unfit for the recycling bin.
Can these be recycled? Note: Type 4 plastics are usually not recyclable. Consult with your curbside recycling system however to see if these plastics are recycled by your local facility.
Form 5–Polypropylene (PP)
The high melting point of these plastics is. Accordingly, they are commonly used in packaging for hot food, such as microwavable meals and containers for takeovers.
Containers of milk, deli wrappers, bottle caps, and bottles of syrup also contain plastic of form 5.
Apart from consumer products, the toughness of PP plastic and the chemical and heat resistance make it ideal for automotive parts. Such vehicle parts include case batteries, signal lights, battery cables, and ice scrapers.
Can these be recycled? Note: Type 5 plastics are generally not recyclable. Consult with your curbside recycling system however to see if these plastics are recycled by your local facility.
Type 6 – polystyrene (PS)
Type 6 plastics made from polystyrene (PS) are lightweight and flexible. Styrofoam take-out containers, "peanuts" packaging, and "clamshell" containers are often made of this plastic material.
Styrofoam made of polystyrene is containing carcinogenic chemicals according to the Baltimore Sun. Such chemicals, when stored in high concentrations, will ultimately lead to cancer.
Plastics made from polystyrene do not degrade absolutely.
Nor do most of the recycling plants accept plastics of type 6. Thus, while cheap, accessible, and convenient, it is best to avoid using plastics of type 6 where possible.
Can these be recycled? No
Type 7 plastics generally include any polycarbonate material not falling under the other 6 categories. "Other" plastics may also consist of a mixture of resins.
Typically 3-to-5 gallon bottles of water, baby bottles, sippy cups and cooler bags all contain plastics of type 7.
Can these be recycled? No
Next time you're about to put a plastic product inside the recycling bin, note there are 7 plastic forms. Check the number and use this as a guide to find out if your recyclable is actually part of recycling or waste. That will ease your local recycling facility's sorting process. And, it will make you a more purposive and diligent recycler in the process.