Seven Types of Plastics and Their Symbols

Plastics available in the market are of different grades and quality. Not all plastics are harmful to the environment, some of them are also Eco-friendly. But people think that all the plastics with a recyclable symbol are recyclable, which is not true. Actually, the symbol that identifies the type of plastic and the recyclable symbol is quite similar and this creates confusion.

Hence it is very important to understand the symbols indicating the plastic-type so that one can identify the type of plastic and take the right decision while buying it.

There are 7 types of plastic and symbol and the number inside the symbol identifies the type of plastic. Let us look that each of these numbers and their type

Plastic type #1

Plastic #1 is made from polyethylene terephthalate and is commonly known as PET. This plastic is often clear and most commonly used for beverages like drink cups and soda bottles. ⁠Though it is considered to be one of the safer plastics, it should not be reused for a longer period as bacteria can breed into it; and also kept away from heat.⁠

The good part is that PET is the most valued plastic and can be easily recycled. Hence when you dispose of the plastic with PET or the #1 symbol on it, be sure to throw it in the recycle bin.

Plastic type #2

Plastic #2 is high-density polyethylene and is commonly seen with the abbreviation HDPE. Polyethylene is generally used to make laundry detergent jugs, milk bottles, and toys. It is kind of a thermoplastic and is opaque and quite strong. The HDPE plastics are also quite safe and do not have any health concerns on usage.

Plastic type #3

Plastic #3 is polyvinyl chloride and is commonly known as PVC. PVC is used to make a number of household items like shower curtains, vinyl, cling wrap, inflatables like pool toys, flooring, car interiors, and a lot of vegan leathers. PVC plastic is not used to store food items as the plasticizers and phthalates used in this plastic are endocrine disruptors that can interfere with our body’s natural communication system. PVC is not a recyclable plastic in most locations.

Plastic type #4

Plastic #4 is Low-density polyethylene is known as LDPE. LDPE is most commonly used for grocery bags, plastic wrap on items being shipped, and is the water-proof inner lining on things like coffee cups and milk cartons. It is a thermoplastic made from petroleum, and it can be opaque or translucent.

Plastic type #5

Plastic #5 is polypropylene most often seen with the abbreviation PP. PP is most often used for jars such as yogurt, cheese and butter, lunch boxes, Tupperware and medicine bottles. It is a thermoplastic polymer which makes it strong and heat resistant. This is why we often consider this plastic to be microwave and dishwasher safe. This does not mean it is safe, and we recommend heating food on a plate rather than in a plastic container. As PP plastic is quite rigid, recycling it is very difficult and hence most of the time it ends up in landfills.

Plastic type #6

Plastic #6 is the polystyrene most often known as PS. It is a petroleum-based plastic that we most often call Styrofoam, but it is also used for many other things such as disposable cutlery, coffee cup lids, Styrofoam cups and egg cartons, DVD cases, take away trays and peanut packaging. It is a type of plastic that breaks easily into small pieces and pollutes our waterways. Moreover, it contains toxic substances that are carcinogenic according to the EPA and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). It is not generally accepted at recycling facilities.

Plastic type #7

The #7 category was designed as a catch-all for polycarbonate (PC) and “other” plastics, so reuse and recycling protocols are not standardized within this category.  You can recognize it with the initials PC (= polycarbonate) or PLA (= polylactic acid). 

Of primary concern with #7 plastics, however, is the potential for chemical leaching into food or drink products packaged in polycarbonate containers made using BPA (Bisphenol A). BPA is a xenoestrogen, a known endocrine disruptor. Number 7 plastics are used to make baby bottles, sippy cups, water cooler bottles and car parts. BPA is found in polycarbonate plastic food containers often marked on the bottom with the letters “PC” by the recycling label #7.

PLA is a plastic of vegetable origin. Despite what people think, PLA is compostable and not biodegradable. PLA has to be subjected to hot temperatures (between 55 and 70°C) in order to be composted, so you cannot compost it in your garden or leave it in nature. It is accepted in some industrial composts. Today, there is a lack of infrastructure that accepts PLA for composting. This means that it usually ends up in the landfill.

Ending Note

I hope after reading this article, you may have gained a little more knowledge about plastics and what does that tiny symbol mean. Not all plastics are recyclable, most of the plastic just ends up in the landfills and major reason for causing land pollution. Hence, sending plastic to the recycling center should be our last option, and we should think of ways how we can reduce and reuse plastic and adopt a Zero-waste lifestyle. 

Alternatives to Plastics

  1. Bee’s Wrap:  

Reusable beeswax food wraps eliminate the single use plastic and keep food fresh. From prepping meals and storing leftovers in the kitchen to packing lunches and snacks on the go, Bee’s Wrap has you covered. An easy, yet thoughtful gift for holidays, housewarmings, dinner parties and potlucks.

2. Fabric Pot:

Sturdy Fabric Material: Made of 300g of thickened nonwoven fabric, these pots are moderately permeable, and BPA-free. Great Drainage: Nonwoven fabric means the pots do not retain excess water, allowing your roots to breathe for healthier, more vigorous growth

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