Types of plastics
Plastic comes in many different types, shapes and colours. There are seven standard types of Plastic, namely - #1 PETE or PET, #2 HDPE, #3 V or PVC, #4 LDPE, #5 PP, #6 PS and #7 Miscellaneous Plastics.
The first category PETE or PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate) is the most commonly used plastic, found in most beverage bottles and packaging. They are generally safe, although continual use of them can lead to bacteria forming on the plastic from the liquid contained within them. This plastic is recyclable, it is squashed and shredded into small flakes that are then either spun into polyester fibers or reprocessed to make new PET bottles. The fibers are used to make carpets, pillow stuffing, life jackets and similar.
HDPE (High-Density Polyethylene) is stiff and is used to make detergent bottles, oil bottles, toys and some plastic bags. This type of plastic is commonly recycled and is considered the safest. Its high durability prevents it from breaking down under sun exposure or extreme heat or freezing, thus it is used to make waste bins, picnic tables, benches, plastic fences and even pens.
PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride) is a soft and flexible and is used to make clear plastic food wrapping, pets toys and bubble wrap. It is also used in garden hoses, casing material for computer cables as well as medical equipment. This type of plastic is deemed unsafe and contains toxins that can leak out. It has also been linked to bone and liver disease as well as developmental issues in children and infants. It is rarely recycled.
LDPE (Low-Density Polyethylene) is found in many household products such as shopping bags, food wrapping, frozen food containers and the bags used to package bread. It is considered less toxic than others and relatively safe for use. It is not as commonly recycled but this is changing. When it is recycled it is made into plastic lumber, bin liners and floor tiles. Products made from LDPE are not as hard and rigid as those using HDPE plastic.
PP (Polypropylene) is another safe type of plastic. This plastic is lightweight and tough, as well as heat-resistant. It also serves as a barrier against grease, chemicals and moisture. It is found in Tupperware, straws, crisp bags, yogurt containers and disposable diapers. Polypropylene is also found in cereal bags, and it keeps them dry and fresh. When recycled it is made into battery cases, ice scrappers, rakes and other heavy duty items.
PS (Polystyrene) is the 6th type of plastic and is known for its lightweight structure, inexpensiveness and easy formation. It’s most commonly used to make take-away food containers, foam packaging and Styrofoam disposable cups. It is also used to make foam insulation as well as the underlay for laminate flooring. Due to its lightweight nature and weak structure it breaks up easily and spreads through the environment. Unfortunately, this plastic is found on beaches all around the planet, it is also ingested by marine life which has great consequences to their health. Polystyrene can leak styrene in food products, which can be carcinogenic for humans. Chemicals present in this plastic have been linked to health and reproductive system dysfunction in humans.
#7 plastics are a mixture of different types including BPA, Polycarbonate and LEXAN. The concern with these is the leaking of chemicals in food or drink goods that are packed in polycarbonate containers produced using BPA (Bisphenol A), which is a known endocrine disruptor. Plastics in this category are used to make baby bottles, water cooler bottles, sunglasses, nylon, computer casing and car parts. BPA is present in polycarbonate plastic food containers which are marked with the letters “PC”. These plastics are usually recycled into plastic lumber and specialised products.