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The seven types of plastic

Updated Tuesday, 4th February 2020

To understand the types of plastics available, their differences and to figure out what can be recycled, refer to our quick guide below.

Banner image of type 1 plastic (PETE) Creative commons image Icon Image by Willfried Wende from Pixabay under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0 license

1) Polyethylene Terephthalate (PETE)

Can it be recycled?

One of the most commonly recycled plastics, clear bottles are likely to be recycled, remove lids first.

What products is it used in?

Clear bottles (look for 'bubble' on the bottom of a bottle), food trays (clear, green, black etc.).

What does it look like?

A tough plastic which discolours if you bend it.

 

Banner image of type 2 plastic (HDPE) Creative commons image Icon Image from Dreamstime under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0 license

2) High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE)

Can it be recycled?

Very commonly recycled, remove lids first.

What products is it used in?

White milk bottles all sizes, bleach type bottles, washing machine liquids and some bottle caps.

What does it look like?

A thick touch plastic which will spring back if bent, caps can usually be flexed.

 

Banner image of type 3 plastic (PVC-U) Creative commons image Icon Photo by JOSHUA COLEMAN on Unsplash under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0 license

3) Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC - U)

Can it be recycled?

Rarely recycled, check your local area.

What products is it used in?

Clear bottles (look for a line on the bottom of the bottle), food trays, toys, piping, wire insulation. 

What does it look like?

More fragile and will crack and.or star bent if stressed, bottles make a 'crinkle' cracking sound if squeezed.

 

Banner image of type 4 plastic (LDPE) Creative commons image Icon Image from Dreamstime under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0 license

4) Low-Density Polyethylene (LDPE)

Can it be recycled?

Reuse of bags and targeted collection in supermarkets most likely, dispose of materials contaminated with food.

What products is it used in?

Plastic bags, plastic wrapping, cling film.

What does it look like?

Can be very thin to thick, but usually flexible and easily torn.

 

Banner image of type 5 plastic (PP) Creative commons image Icon Image from Dreamstime under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0 license

5) Polypropylene (PP)

Can it be recycled?

Not generally recycled, check your local area.

What products is it used in?

Butter and margarine tubs, clear fresh soup containers, some bottle caps, glass jar caps.

What does it look like?

Will shatter into stripes if compressed, caps will usually be too hard to flex.

 

Banner image of type 6 plastic (PS) Creative commons image Icon Image from Dreamstime under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0 license

6) Polystyrene or Styrofoam (PS)

Can it be recycled?

Not generally recycled, check your local area.

What products is it used in?

Yoghurt pots, insulated disposable cups, some trays, parcel packaging.

What does it look like?

Will tear or pull apart depending on the form.

 

Banner image of type 7 plastic (OTHER) Creative commons image Icon Image from Dreamstime under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0 license

7) OTHER

Can it be recycled?

Reuse of individual items more likely, avoid placing in your recycling unless specifically instructed to do so. 

What products is it used in?

Reading glasses, CDs and DVDs and cases, some electrical connections and wiring, general household plastics. 

What does it look like?

The majority of these plastics are very tough and are likely to shatter if pressure is applied.

 

Poster | The seven types of plastic. A chart to download and print to understand more about plastic Creative commons image Icon The Open University under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0 license Click to download poster

PLEASE NOTE: The contents of this article and poster originated from the 'Our Blue Planet' booklet, which was inspired by our co-production 'Blue Planet Live'.

To download the 'Our Blue Planet' booklet in full, please click here.

 

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