What are the most common types of plastic?
Plastic was invented in 1856 by Alexander Parkes, in Birmingham, England. Since then, we have used it for everything: construction, packaging, medical utensils and devices, surgery, etc.
We are all aware of the consequences of plastic, but... are we aware of the different types of plastics that exist?
There are 7 different types of plastic. All of them are composed of different chemicals, some are reusable, some are hazardous. Below, we’ll leave a summary of each type, where can we find it and what are the effects that it has on the environment.
1) PLASTIC: POLYETHYLENE TEREPHTHALATE
Polyethylene terephthalate, also known as PET, PETE or Polyester is one of the most common types of plastic due to its clarity, strength, toughness and a barrier to liquid and gas.
Where can we find it? It’s commonly seen in water and soda bottles, tote bags, clothing,...
Is it toxic? PET may leach antimony which is used as a catalyst and flame retardant in PET. The longer there’s liquid in a PET container, the greater the chances of release. Warm temperatures and enclosed areas also increase the chances of release.
Antimony is considered to be potentially carcinogenic; workers exposed to it have shown symptoms of respiratory issues and skin irritation and among females, an increased incidence of reproductive issues.
Is it recyclable? It’s easily recyclable and widely accepted by recycling companies.
What are the alternatives? Switching to glass bottles or a stainless steel reusable bottle.
2) PLASTIC: HIGH DENSITY POLYETHYLENE
HDPE is one of the most used plastics in the world due to its stiffness, strength, toughness, resistance to moisture, permeability to gas, ease of processing.
Where can we find it? It's commonly used to produce plastic bags, garbage bags, yogurt, dishes, etc.
Is it toxic? It is generally considered a safer plastic for food and drink use, although some studies have shown that it can leach the endocrine disruptor nonylphenol.
Is it recyclable? It can be recycled and made into bottles for non-food items like shampoo, laundry detergent, motor oil; plastic lumber and furniture, piping, recycling bins, fencing, floor tiles, buckets, crates, flower pots, garden edging, film and sheeting.
What are the alternatives? Glass or stainless steel bottles, buy in jars and reusable mason jars. Use reusable bags made of cotton or hemp or single use alternatives like cassava.
3) PLASTIC: POLYVINYL CHLORIDE
The second most used plastic, polyvinyl chloride, also known as PVC or V, is one of the most damaging plastics to the environment.
Where can we find it? oft PVC (softened with plasticizers) used in toys, clear food (e.g., take-out) and non-food packaging (e.g., blister wrap, cling wrap), squeeze bottles, shampoo bottles, mouthwash bottles, cooking oil and peanut butter jars, detergent and window cleaner bottles, loose-leaf binders, shower curtains, blood bags
Is it toxic? PVC is widely considered the most toxic and hazardous plastic that is still - unbelievably so - commonly used to make numerous consumer products
Is it recyclable? Really low. Rarely recycled because it is difficult to do so on an industrial scale. It should not be recycled because it contaminates the recycling stream.
What are the alternatives? Reusable materials as mentioned above as well as wax wraps, and recycled alternatives
4) PLASTIC: LOW DENSITY POLYETHYLENE (LDPE)
Polyethylene polymer has the simplest basic chemical structure of any plastic polymer making it very easy to process and thus extremely popular for numerous low value applications - especially packaging.
Where can we find it? Bags, plastic wraps, milk cartoons,...
Is it toxic? It’s generally considered a safe plastic for food and drinks.
Is it recyclable? It’s very difficult to recycle and the recycled product range is limited to compost bins, paneling and other construction materials.
What are the alternatives? As stated above, reusable mason jars, non plastic containers, wrappers and reusable cotton or hemp bags are a good solution to avoid this kind of plastic.
5) PLASTIC: POLYPROPYLENE (PP)
PP has very similar applications to the above plastic, although stiffer and generally heat resistant.
Where can we find it? Food containers such as butter or margarine, mayonnaise, cheese, yogurt, etc. Also in baby bottles, thermal vests, sanitary pad linens etc.
Is it toxic? It’s generally considered a safe plastic
Is it recyclable? Recycling rate of this kind of plastic is particularly due to the different components in it and the difficulty sorting them.
What are the alternatives? Switch to glass and stainless steel.
6) PLASTIC: POLYSTYRENE (PS)
Commonly associated with styrofoam is generally used for food packaging.
Where can we find it? Food containers, egg cartons, disposable glasses and plates, packaging, disposable razors,...
Is it toxic? Polystyrene food containers can leach styrene, which is reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen and is considered a brain and nervous system toxicant.
Is it recyclable? It’s incredibly low due its difficulty.
The last category refers to all other plastics that aren’t described above. This includes bioplastics, mixes of different plastics, etc.