Decode your plastic | What do the recycle numbers mean?

Decode your plastic | What do the recycle numbers mean1 Polyethylene Terephthalate

Polyethylene Terephthalate (PETE or PET) is found in plastic drink bottles and food packaging. As with other polymers, PET is non-biodegradable and can take centuries to decompose, so recycling is key. Production and consumption of PET materials are increasing, and too often these products are ending up in landfill, even though the waste scrap could be recycled and recovered.

2 High Density Polyethylene

This plastic type is known as HDPE is accepted in the majority of recycling programmes. HDPE plastics are highly durable, do not absorb liquid readily, and experience little degradation during the lifetime. Due to its durable properties, this plastic type is commonly used to hold liquids such as detergent or household cleaning products, milk cartons, and butter and yoghurt tubs. Almost a third (about eight million tons) of HDPE produced worldwide is used for these types of containers, making it one of the largest used commodity plastics.

3 Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC)

This plastic type is commonly known as vinyl and is rarely recycled and commonly not accepted by recycling programs. PVC is usually used for medical grade plastic items and building materials, and is not typically used for household items that can be consumed as it can contain phthalates and is not considered safe when contact with food items.

4 Low Density Polyethylene (LDPE)

LDPE plastic type is usually found in soft plastics such as shopping bags, squeezable bottles, frozen food or bread bags. This plastic type is typically not accepted in local council collections for homes and businesses. However, LDPE plastics are accepted in many soft plastics recycling programmes, and when recycled, LDPE is commonly turned into plastic bags, clothing fibres and bottles.

5 Polypropylene (PP)

PP is not accepted in council collections and is most commonly used in the productions of plastic fibres for textile production (such as carpets and nylon fabrics), and used to make plastic straws, condiment bottles and bottle caps.

In recent years, polypropylene has grown to become one of the most largely used plastic raw material, and from an ecological perspective, this poses significant threats to the environment. The use of polypropylene in the beauty products and the textile industry has resulted in microplastic fibre pollution in marine environments, which is having a detrimental impact on our oceans and the marine life which inhabit them.

6 Polystyrene

‘Styrofoam’ is usually found in carry-out containers, meat trays and take away cups and is typically not recyclable through council collection programmes. As with polypropylene, polystyrene plastic pollution in marine environments is a growing concern due to its adverse effect on marine life.  Plastics comprised of polystyrene, polypropylene, polyethylene, and polyvinyl chloride are the most prevalent forms of plastic marine pollution and are spread through our oceans by surface currents, wind patterns at an average density of 1000 to 4000 pieces per square kilometre.

7 Mixed Plastics

Plastic type 7 refers to plastics varieties that do not fit into the other varieties and is not accepted in council collections in Australia. While many biodegradable, photo-sensitive, and plant-based plastics fit in this category, so do potentially harmful plastics such as polycarbonate, BPA & Lexan.

Source Sydney Environment Institute, The University of Sydney