In today’s world, we use “plastic” as a blanket word to describe the myriad of shapes and forms that this material comes in. In reality, there are 7 different types of plastic that vary in their chemical composition, purpose, recyclability and hazardous nature. It’s important to stay informed of these variants as it helps us on our journey as conscious consumers.
1. PET/Polyethylene Terephthalate:
We encounter these plastics in our day to day lives – they exist in almost every grocery store aisle. They are primarily used as packaging for sodas, water, medicine jars, household cleaning products and more.
PET plastics are widely used because they have the ability to prevent oxygen from entering the container and spoiling the perishable product inside. This plastic variation is one of the most commonly recycled ones.
2. HDPE/High Density Polyethylene:
This type of plastic is usually opaque and is used in containers for milk, motor, oil, shampoos, conditioners and other toiletries. They are stronger and relatively more stable than Type 1 plastics and are also recycled often.
These plastics can only be reused for food and beverages if they were initially used for the same purpose. Otherwise, they might disrupt the human hormonal system.
3. PVC/Polyvinyl Chloride
PVC is even tougher than type 2 plastics. It’s used primarily for plumbing in pipes and tiles. It’s also used in toys, detergents, cooking oil bottles, inflatable mattresses and much more.
Several studies have shown that this variant is one of the most hazardous forms of plastic – using it may leach a variety of toxic pollutants like bisphenol A (BPA), phthalates, lead, dioxins, mercury, and cadmium that are widely considered cancerous. This type is also rarely accepted in recycling programs.
4. LDPE/Low Density Polyethylene
Low density plastics are the most durable and flexible forms available – they are also easy and cheap to process. It’s used in shopping bags, cling wrap, squeezable bottles and more. Although it’s the ideal composition for convenient human use, this type almost impossible to recycle and is left to landfills more often than not.
Polypropylene plastics have a high melting point and thus, are used for their ability to store hot food and microwaveable meals. Owing to their durable nature they are also used to in yogurt containers, syrup and prescription bottles.
Although it’s features of heat resistance and durability are convenient, this variation of plastic cannot be recycled and thus is not conducive to human use.
This type can most commonly be found in takeaway containers – food boxes, cutlery, etc. They are also used in packing foam and packing peanuts. These plastics are also not recycled often and never fully degrade. Polystyrene plastics have also been proven to be carcinogenic and injurious to human health.
The 7th category covers all the plastics that don’t fall under the previously listed ones. The most commonly used plastic that falls under this category is Polycarbonate which has been associated with highly toxic BPA. It’s used in baby bottles, compact discs and medical storage containers. Materials that mixed with plastics also fall under the 7th category – bioplastics, for example. Most recycling programs do not accept 7th category plastics as they are difficult to identify and segregate for recycling.