Week 8: Get To Know Your Rubbish No.1 – Plastics

I figured that at the current stage, going entirely Zero Waste (or a considerable part of the way at least) is going to be a long process. Until then, I decided have a look at the waste I produce currently and make my best effort to actually recycle. As well as actively choosing not to buy things that cannot be recycled, this is a good way to reduce your waste on the way to actually not making all this waste in the first place. Knowing my rubbish better will at least keep a part of what I always considered to be non-recyclable out of landfill.

So, starting with the great enemy: plastic. Apart from potential health issues related with plastic and environmental pollution through our throwaway-society, plastics generally can only be recycled once, if at all. This is a huge problem, and plastic in landfill does not degrade for literally thousands of years. My idea was to at least identify the plastics I could not reduce yet but are recyclable, even though I was not aware of it previously.

A good starting point is looking at different packaging’s SPI codes. These are an international codes which are supposed to help consumers to identify different types of plastic in order to help with recycling. Through my extraordinary Wikipedia research ( 😉 ), I looked up the six different plastics identified in the code, with the seventh including all other types. Every different type of plastic undergoes a different type of recycling process, some don’t even have a recycling method. But just because there is one, does not mean that local councils accept them in their curbside recycling collection.

1PET  01 – Polyethylene terephthalate (PET or PETE)

Used for: Soft drink, water & salad dressing bottles; peanut butter and jam jars; small consumer electronics, microwavable packaging and many other common consumer product containers

PET is usually widely collected and recycled through a process that melts them into pellets to produce RPET, which in turn is modelled into polyester fibres, non-food plastic containers, lumber, tables and other stuff. This process is rather a ‘downcycling’ than recycling.

2PEHD  02 – High-density polyethylene (HDPE)

Used for: Water pipes; hula hoop rings; buckets; milk bottles; bleach/laundry detergent/shampoo bottles; bottle caps; recycling bins; agricultural pipe; base cups; motor oil bottles; playground equipment; plastic lumber

HDPE is the most commonly recycled plastic and picked up in most curbside collections. It is recycled into toys, piping, rope, liners, picnic tables, plastic lumber, park benches and other durable plastic products.

3PVC  03 – Polyvinyl chloride (PVC)

Used for: Blister packaging for non-food items; cling films for non-food use; electrical cable insulation; rigid piping; vinyl records; pipe; fencing; shower curtains; lawn chairs; non-food bottles; children’s toys; may be used for food packaging with the addition of the plasticisers needed to make PVC flexible

Although it is potentially recyclable, the recycled product is high in cost and benefits are low. One can generally say that PVC is not recyclable, and few recycling centres will accept it. Apparently though, a new emerging way to closed-loop recycle PVC is emerging with a more economically produced PVC called Vinyloop (says Wikipedia).

4PELD  04 – Low-density polyethylene (LDPE)

Used in: Frozen food bags; squeezable bottles, e.g. honey, mustard; cling films; flexible container lids; plastic grocery bags & bin liners; 6 pack rings; various containers; dispensing bottles; wash bottles; sandwich bags & packaging films

LDPE is not often recycled through curbside programs, but some communities will accept it. Plastic shopping bags can be returned to many stores for recycling. When recycled, LDPE plastic is used for plastic lumber, landscaping boards, garbage can liners and floor tiles. Products made using recycled LDPE are not as hard or rigid as those made using recycled HDPE plastic.

5PP  05 – Polypropylene (PP)

Used in: Reusable microwaveable ware (e.g. Tupperware); yogurt containers; margarine tubs; microwavable meal trays; drinking straws; disposable cups; drink bottle caps; plates; auto parts (bumpers); industrial fibres for e.g. carpets, wall covering & car upholstery; cereal bags; disposable diapers; crisp bags; packaging tape.

Polypropylene is generally recyclable, but again, hardly any recycling centres accept it. There is a trend towards more recycling emerging though, and it is worth checking in the local community for recycling programmes.

6PS  06 – Polystyrene (PS)

Used in: Egg cartons; packing peanuts; disposable cups, plates, trays and cutlery; disposable take-away containers; desk accessories; toys; video cassettes and cases; insulation board and other expanded polystyrene products (e.g., Styrofoam)

According to Wikipedia, ‘most polystyrene products are currently not recycled due to the lack of incentive to invest in the compactors and logistical systems required’. Meaning, it is not accepted in curbside collections, but occasionally and depending on the products recycled. A common scheme does not seem to exist. You can, though, try to bring polystyrene foam peanuts back to shipping stores for them to reuse. Nonetheless, there is a potential health hazard when dealing a lot with Polysterene, and some people recommend completely avoiding PS in the first place.

7O  07 – Other

Includes all other types of plastic, e.g.:

  • Polyester (fibres & textiles),
  • Polyamides (nylons, such as fibres, toothbrush bristles, fishing line, etc.),
  • Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (AB),
  • Polyurethanes (PU) (Cushioning foams, thermal insulation foams, surface coatings, printing rollers, etc.),
  • Bioplastics

A great deal of type 7 plastics is Polycarbonate which is used in beverage bottles; baby milk bottles; compact discs; “unbreakable” glazing; electronic apparatus housings; lenses including sunglasses, prescription glasses, automotive headlamps, riot shields, instrument panels; traffic lights; lenses; security windows

Group 7 includes various other types of plastic, each with own properties, so no single recycling method applies to these. They are mostly not recycled, but the group also includes bioplastics, which can actually be composted, so it’s best to look at each product of this group individually.

That’s it on my part for now, I will now start going around checking my plastic waste and update you of my findings soon!

Please note:

I took the information provided in this post from the following pages. I cannot guarantee that all information is entirely correct, and I would like to encourage you to prove me wrong in case I made a mistake. I tried to tailor my information for the UK where I live, but if you’d like to add info about your own country’s recycling program, leave a comment 🙂







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