In our previous post you can find information about the horrifying amounts of plastic waste worldwide. You can also read about the possible recycling solutions, as well as their advantages and disadvantages. This post will give you more information about the various types of plastic, their labeling and the possible recycling solutions.
1. PET (sometimes PETE) – Polyethylene terephthalate.
PET is probably the most widespread type of plastic nowadays. It is very popular in food packaging. Soft drinks, mouthwash, ketchup and salad dressing containers – most of these are generally packed in plastic. The popularity of PET as a packaging material comes from its extraordinary ability to create a barrier between gas and liquid. Thus, PET represents a perfect package for liquid products.
The main danger of using PET bottles and containers is that it can leach antimony – a toxic metal used during its production. Despite the fact that PET is considered safe, various circumstances can lead to antimony release into the liquid. Among those circumstances are higher temperatures, and even storing liquid in a PET bottle for a significant amount of time. Basically, the longer liquid remains in a plastic PET container – the higher the chances of antimony release.
Being the most popular type of plastic PET is also the one with relatively high recycling rates. In many European countries special PET-containers are located next to the supermarkets for the separate waste collection of this type of plastic. However, what actually happens to PET is not technically “recycling”, it is “downcycling”. “Downcycling” means that the quality of the recycled material is lower than that of the original product. Textile industry is using “downcycled” PET, for example, for producing fleece clothing. This means, however, that with each recycling procedure the quality constantly decreases until the material eventually becomes landfill waste.
Conclusion: try to use as little PET as possible, buy a refill water bottle and use clothes from natural materials – cotton or wool.
2. HDPE – High Density Polyethylene
Another one of the popular polyethylene family. Finds its uses in food packaging – mainly for milk, juice and yoghurt. Moreover, detergents and shampoos often find themselves in HDPE-bottles. Grocery and garbage bags, single-use dishes are also often made out of this type of plastic.
HDPE is a safer plastic than, for example, PET, as it is more stable, and therefore, less prone to releasing chemicals into the liquids it contains. However, some studies have demonstrated that it can leach estrogenic chemicals when exposed to UV light.
Recycled HDPE is used for packaging of non-food items like shampoos and detergents, as well as for creating plastic furniture and floor tiles.
Conclusion: relatively safe.
3. PVC – polyvinyl chloride
The second most widespread plastic in the world (after polyethylene of course). The whole life-cycle of PVC is toxic, from production to use and disposal. Therefore, the usage of this plastic is continuously decreasing over the years. However, you can still find it in various plastic toys, table cloths, even meat wrappings or cooking oils.
PVC is probably the most toxic plastic still widely in use for producing consumer products. It contains multiple toxic chemicals, including bisphenol A (BPA), phthalates, lead, dioxins, mercury, and cadmium. It is also a dangerous substance to work with at production stage, which puts manufacturing workers at risk.
If all that was not enough, recycling rate for PVC is also very low, due to the difficulty of the process.
Conclusion: Very environmentally unfriendly, unsustainable and can be very toxic. We recommend to avoid this one completely.