Plastic Recycling: Types of Plastic to Recycle

Plastic recycling is without doubt the most challenging of the recycling processes. It is challenging not only for the industry, which has to separate materials of very similar weight and density, but for citizens as well who have to sort light and bulky materials.

It’s crucial to know how to recognize and categorize all types of plastic that can be recycled.

Knowing Plastic Recycling

Plastic recycling is very important when considering the raw materials and energy used to manufacture it.

More specifically, plastic manufacture consumes around 8 per cent of global oil and gas production. Half of it is used as feedstock whereas the rest as energy used in manufacture.

In that way recycle of plastics:

  • Reduces significantly the use of oil; recycling one ton of plastic can save up to 2,000 gallons of gasoline;
  • Limits carbon dioxide emissions; plastic recycling achieves annual reduction of 9 million tons of CO2 eq.
  • Cuts down the amount of plastics sent for disposal and saves valuable space in landfills. A ton of uncompressed plastic may occupy more than 350 cubic feet.

Plastic recycling categories

There are four major categories of plastic recycling:

  • Primary category:

Plastics are reprocessed mechanically into a product with, if not the same, equivalent properties. It is also called closed-loop recycling.

  • Secondary category:

As in primary category and in this case mechanical reprocess of plastic takes place to recycle it; however the new products have lower properties. It is also referred to as downgrading.

  • Tertiary category:

In this case recovery of chemical constituents takes place. It is usually described as chemical or feedstock recycling. 

  • Quaternary category:

Last comes the recovery of energy, using thermal processes. This category constitutes the well known energy valorization or simpler energy from waste.

Types of Plastic Recycled Easily

In general, it is easier to recycle products consisting of a single polymer rather than multi-layer packages.

Thermoplastics, such as PET, PE and PP are much easier to recycle and give products with equivalent properties.

Indicatively, common plastic products easily recycled include:

  • Water and beverage bottles;
  • Pots;
  • Tubs;
  • Chemical drums;
  • Jerrycans;
  • Picnic ware;
  • Cable insulation;
  • Food wrapping material;
  • Drainage pipes;
  • Credit cards;
  • Automotive interiors and seat coverings;
  • Toys;
  • Heavy duty sacks;
  • Gas and water pipes;
  • Audio cassette and CD cases.

The list is not exhaustive. It is rather indicative and it tries to provide an idea of the most commonly used products. A contact with the local recycling company will answer any questions you may have about recyclable plastic objects.

Plastic Recycling Symbols – 7 Types Of Plastic

The wide range of plastics causes usually confusion to citizens on what to recycle and what not to. Therefore, the Society of Plastics Industry developed a list of symbols called “Plastic Identification Code” or simpler PIC.

PIC categorizes five groups of plastic polymers, according to their specific properties. Users can identify them either by the number written or the letter abbreviation.

In that way citizens not only know what they can recycle but also the type of plastic they recycle. All they need to do is to look at the base or at the side of the product to identify the recycling symbol.

Apart from users, PIC facilitates also recycling companies to sort plastics for reprocessing.

Plastic recycling symbols per identification code are provided below. Usual applications per category are also provided.

#1 Plastic – Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET, PETE)


PET01 symbol

Usual packaging applications

  • Soft drink
  • Water bottles
  • Salad dressing bottles
  • Peanut butter jars
  • Jam jars
  • Small consumer electronics.

#2 Plastic – High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE)

Usual applications

  • Water pipes
  • Buckets and grocery bags
  • Water, milk and juice bottles
  • Some shampoo bottles

#3 Plastic – Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC)



Usual applications

  • Blister packaging for non-food items
  • Electrical cable insulation
  • Vinyl records
  • Cling films for non-food use
  • Rigid piping

#4 Plastic – Low-Density Polyethylene (LDPE)



Usual applications

  • Bags for frozen food
  • Squeezable bottles, i.e. mustard

#5 Plastic – Polypropylene (PP)


Usual applications

  • Reusable microwaveable ware
  • Microwaveable disposable take-away containers
  • Kitchenware
  • Yogurt containers
  • Disposable cups
  • Soft drink bottle caps
  • Plates

#6 Plastic – Polystyrene (PS)



Usual applications

  • Disposable cups, plates, trays and cutlery
  • Egg cartons

#7 Plastic – Other (often polycarbonate or ABS)



Usual applications

  • Beverage bottles
  • Baby milk bottles
  • Compact discs
  • Electronic apparatus housings
  • Lenses including sunglasses
  • Instrument panels

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