Types of Plastic & Their Alternatives
Not all human beings are equal, not all plastic is either. Plastic has become an omnipresent presence in our daily lives. They are unavoidable at grocery stores, can be found everywhere from medical stores to your phone case, beauty products to product wrappings. As unseparable as plastic is from our daily life, the fact we cannot ignore is that it contributes to 91% of global waste, which is not recycled, finding its way to landfills, the seas and oceans.
Many of us are aware of the harmful effects of plastic but cannot do anything to avoid it totally. What we can do is become aware of the various types, so you use less of what’s most toxic to the environment and animals.
Plastic is available in 7 types, some thin and some thick by weight. Knowing the various types helps in their proper disposal, responsible recycling and way of using them.
Type #1: Polyethylene Terephthalate (PETE or PET)
One plastic that’s all around us is PET, that which goes into the making of cold drink bottles and bottled water. It’s safe as long as its integrity is intact, but once used and discarded, interacts with soil and water to leach chemicals over its lifetime.
Used mainly by packaging and container industries, PET is also the easiest to reuse and recycle. This single-use plastic water bottle can be something you carefully use and find alternatives to when not required.
Type #2: High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE)
Milk jugs, shampoo bottles, house cleaning products, soap dispensers are all made with HDPE. It’s generally considered safe and is recyclable.
Type #3: Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC or Vinyl)
Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC or Vinyl) is one of three plastics that are extremely difficult to recycle in curbside recycling programs. It has also been deemed unsafe since it’s been linked to the release of phthalates, which may harm human health.
PVC is found in many different parts of your home: backpacks, shoes, credit cards, window frames, appliances, shampoo bottles, and more. Even plastic wrap is commonly made out of PVC.
Type #4: Low-Density Polyethylene (LDPE)
Low-density polyethylene (LDPE) is considered safe and is used in a range of items, from plastic bags to freezer goods.
In the past, it was tricky to curbside recycle these items, but it’s becoming more accepted by recycling centers. Check to see if it’s part of your curbside recycling program. If it’s not, many grocery stores now have drop-off programs that accept plastic bags for recycling.
Type #5. Polypropylene (PP)
Polypropylene (PP) is considered one of the safest plastics and is FDA-approved for food contact. Because of that, it’s often used for containers for yogurt, cream cheese, butter, and more.
Unfortunately, only 3% of these products get recycled across the world. Check to see if it’s accepted in your curbside recycling program. Or, find out if the company you buy from has a recycling program of its own.
Type #6. Polystyrene (PS)
Polystyrene (PS), trademarked as Styrofoam by Dow Chemical Company (kind of like how Band-Aid is a brand-specific product but is now synonymous with bandage), is among the worst of the bunch.
It’s created from styrene, a likely human carcinogen. And it’s not easily recyclable, which means things like takeout containers, disposable plates, coffee cups, and foam packaging tend to go straight to the landfill unless you can find a trusted drop-off location near you.
Type #7: Miscellaneous/Other
The final type of plastic, miscellaneous, is the most complicated. It basically includes all the plastics that didn’t make the cut for the top six. This includes nylon, polycarbonates, and products like phone cases.
This plastic blend can’t typically be recycled, but you can call and ask for specific instructions from the recycling center in your area.