Types of plastic: part 1

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.

Polyethylene terephthalate plastic

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

HDPE plastic

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

Image result for PVC plastic

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.

Plastic recycling

Plastic Waste

Plastic materials are one of the most used materials in Europe. It is the most popular form of food-packaging worldwide. Apart from that obvious role, areas like agriculture, construction or car industry – all make use of some plastics. As a result of this extensive usage, in 2003 the Netherlands alone produced 1,2 million tons of plastic waste. That is a very big amount for a country with relatively small population – 17 million people – imagine the impact of Germany or the United States!

The biggest amount of plastic waste – approximately 45% – consists of household waste. That number is so high due to the fact that almost every food item purchased in a supermarket comes in a plastic package. Meat packages, cheese slices, butter packs, ready-made dishes – all are packed with ridiculous amounts of plastic. My favorite example is a typical lunch salad from a supermarket. Not only the whole package is plastic, but almost every ingredient has a separate compartment made of this non-biodegradable material!

Plastic package

Soft drink bottles, and packages like shampoos or shower gels form another enormous source of plastic waste worldwide. In many countries, where tap water is not safe to drink, this problem is even more urgent. As a result of bad quality of tap water people have to purchase big bottles of drinking water almost every day. Unfortunately, those countries are also the ones with very poor recycling policies.


The worst of it all – only about 5% of all the plastic waste is being recycled. Most of it ends up in huge land damps, or even worse, in the world’s ocean. There have been horrifying predictions of more plastic than fish in the ocean as soon as 2050. Plastic waste in the ocean has very sad consequences, which most people never even think about. Multiple reports show show large fish and turtles suffocating on carelessly thrown away plastic bags and packages. Even if such a package eventually breaks down in the sea water, it releases dangerous chemicals in the process. If we don’t think about the environment, we should at least think about ourselves. These chemicals are eventually consumed by various fish and may end up in the human food chain.

Buying less products with a one-time use packaging and, most of all, recycling, are the answers to those problems.

Plastic recycling practices

There are three most-popular recycling practices for plastic.

  • The first one consists of simply burning it down to produce energy. This is where most of the used plastic ends up. The method is, however, widely criticized due to the fact that the obtained energies are not compensating for the energies required for new plastic production. Moreover, the process results in releasing dangerous gases to the atmosphere.
  • A relatively new and still rare recycling procedure includes converting plastics into fuels and carbons.
  • Finally, a practice that should be way more wide-spread than it currently is – reusing plastics! It’s the most environmentally-friendly way of recycling plastics. The waste is collected, subsequently melted and further re-used to create new items – from single-use cutlery to children’s toys.

The bottom line is – everyone can contribute to a more sustainable society. Start today with buying a reusable water bottle and separating your waste!


If you would like to read more about the types of plastic and their utilization procedures, please check out this post.