Which Plastics can and cannot be recycled~ #KnowYourPlastic

We stand for a cause that can bring a positive change. One such cause is the wise dealing of plastics. Most people believe that by practicing recycling they can just manage the environment. As we learned in our previous blog that not every plastic is recyclable. It is high time that we become aware of the recyclable plastics and the ones which are not.

Which Plastics Are Recyclable?

Plastic For Change published an article in May 2021 where they stated that there are 7 types of plastic used around the world; they vary in size,color, usage, and disposal. Not all of those plastics are recyclable but one must be aware of the recyclable plastics. 

Those recyclable plastics are:

  • Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET)

  • High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE)

  • Polypropylene (PP)

Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET)

PET is the most frequently recycled plastic in the world. PET bottles can be recycled to make more PET bottles! They are made of one of the few polymers that can be recycled indefinitely into the same form. During the process, the PET is blended in a virgin-to-recycled ratio to give the material strength for use in a new product. One interesting fact about PET recycling is that a substantial part of collected PET plastic is recycled into fashion products such as T-shirts, Polar fleece clothing, Backpacks, and Rugs.

According to a report by PETRA, approximately 1.5 billion pounds of discarded PET bottles and containers are recovered for recycling in the United States each year, making it the most recycled plastic in the country.

High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE)

HDPE is one of the easiest plastic polymers to recycle, hence, it is accepted at the majority of recycling centers across the world. HDPE can be clear or colored. Non-food application bottles such as detergent, motor oil, household cleaners, and film packaging are the key markets for post-consumer recycled natural HDPE. Pigmented HDPE post-consumer recycled resin markets, on the other hand, include pipe, lawn products, and non-food application bottles.

HDPE is frequently downcycled (a recycling method that entails the reuse of resources for lower-value goods) into plastic lumber, tables, roadside curbs, benches, and other long-lasting plastic products.

According to Moore's 2014 Non-bottle Rigid Plastic Recycling research, HDPE rigid containers had the second greatest recovery rates at 34.1% and trailing only polypropylene at 38.3%.

Polypropylene (PP)

It is one of the most widely used plastic packaging materials across the globe, but only 1-3% of it is recycled in the United States, implying that the vast majority of PP is destined for the landfill. It takes 20-30 years to totally dissolve.

In a report by The Recycling Partnership, each familiy utilizes 17 pounds of polypropylene available per year. This clearly makes the generation rate of PP much higher than natural or pigmented HDPE. According to this, it was estimated that more than 1.6 billion pounds of PP plastic would be recycled. 

But was that the case? No. The reason being reusing this material does not always make financial sense. Polypropylene recycling is complex and costly, also difficult to remove the odor of the product that this plastic contained in its first life. Recycled PP is frequently turned out to be black or gray, rendering it unsuitable for packaging applications. As a result, PP is commonly found in plastic lumber, park benches, auto parts, speed bumps, and other industrial applications

Plastic quote

Which Plastics Are Non-Recyclable?

  • Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC)

  • Low-Density Polyethylene (LDPE)

  • Polystyrene (PS)

Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC)

PVC is one of the most frequently used plastics. The high chlorine content in raw PVC and the high quantities of toxic chemicals applied to the polymer to attain the necessary material quality are important issues in PVC recycling. As a result, before recycling, PVC must be separated from other polymers. PVC goods have an average lifespan of 30 years, with some lasting 50 years or more. This means that more PVC items are nearing the end of their useful life and ending up in the waste stream, and the volume is expected to rise dramatically in future.

The collected PVC is very difficult to recycle. Still, if it is being recycled, it is currently done by mechanical or feedstock recycling. Because there is no chemical reaction involved in mechanical recycling, the recyclate keeps its original composition. This presents a recycling difficulty because PVC products include varying additives depending on their application.

This not-so recyclable plastic is used for flooring, roofing, siding; also used in the making of tents, shower curtains, protective clothes, and even plumbing pipes.

Low-Density Polyethylene (LDPE)

Plastic bags provided by grocery stores or other retailers are Low-Density Polyethylene (LDPE) which is a cheap and low quality plastic. It is not that it cannot be recycled but concerned with financial point of view, it is not recycled. As a result, certain municipalities refuse to accept this plastic in curbside recycling bins.

The process of recycling this plastic is not easy; the most collected entity made of this plastic is the plastic bags, and they tend to get entangled in the recycling machinery which risks and endangers the complete procedure of recycling. 

This is the core reason why it is advisable to avoid the use of plastic bags and carry a cloth or jute bag along while going out shopping. 

Polystyrene (PS)

Polystyrene is a polymer derived from styrene polymer, which is a synthetic material. It is also one of the most common forms of plastic. Recycling centers refuse to take this plastic because it requires advanced technologies to reprocess which is not easily accessible to the majority of centers.

This, however, does not apply to expanded polystyrene. Generally, all varieties of expanded polystyrene can be recycled. Expanded PolyStyrene or EPS is a white foam plastic substance made from solid polystyrene beads. It is generally used for packing, insulation, and other purposes.

Polystyrene degradation necessitates a large amount of light and heat. Our environment, on the other hand, does not create as much heat as it requires. As a result, polystyrene decomposition can take up to 500 years. It may not disintegrate at all in rare circumstances.


PET and HDPE plastic favorable for recycling which are called the #1 and #2 plastics. it is advised to use those plastics responsibly and wisely.

In this alarming situation, we should understand that our mother earth is already suffering a lot and we should not suffocate her more by disposing of such non-biodegradable waste more and more every day. 

It’s time we become aware of environmentally cautious brands and join hands with them.


Last updated on: Jan20/23

1 comment

V Ramamurthy IAS Retd
V Ramamurthy IAS Retd

Excellent information. Thank you.

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