The Seven Types of Plastic

By: Kate Riegel, Helping Ninja, Age 17, California

Follow Kate on Instagram: @pollution_solution_

            There are seven different types of plastic. That’s right, seven!! Each type can vary in terms of common uses, toxicity levels, and ability to be recycled. On almost every plastic object there will be a small recycling sign with a number inside of it. This sign doesn’t mean that the product is recyclable; it just tells you what type of plastic it is.

            Type 1: Polyethylene terephthalate (PETE or PET)

This type of plastic is often used for plastic water bottles and household cleaning product containers. PETE is relatively safe for human health but can produce carcinogens when heated. Most recycling facilities accept type 1 plastic.

            Type 2: High-density polyethylene (HDPE)

HDPE is often used for milk jugs and butter tubs. This kind of plastic is safe for human health because it has a low risk of leaching chemicals. It is also accepted by most recycling facilities.

            Type 3: Polyvinyl chloride (PVC)

Type 3 plastic is normally used for food wrap, shower curtains, and bottles for cooking oil. PVC is unsafe for human health because it contains chemicals called phthalates that disrupt hormonal development. It is best to avoid PVC, especially in objects that will surround food or heat up. In addition, this kind of plastic is rarely accepted at recycling centers.

            Type 4: Low-density polyethylene (LDPE)

This type of plastic is typically used for grocery bags and bread bags. LDPE is safe for humans but is not accepted for recycling. Thin plastic bags can get stuck in recycling machines, causing them to break and require costly repairs. It is always best to carry reusable grocery bags and try to get bread plastic-free.

            Type 5: Polypropylene (PP)

PP is often used to make yogurt cups, ketchup bottles, and kitchenware. It is relatively safe for human health and is accepted by most recycling facilities.

            Type 6: Polystyrene, or Styrofoam 

Styrofoam is used for disposable food containers and packaging. Type 6 plastic isn’t safe for human health because it leaches potentially toxic chemicals, especially when heated. Also, styrofoam is very difficult to recycle.

            Type 7: Other

This category of plastic contains every other plastic that doesn’t fall into one of the first six categories, including new plastics, bioplastics, and compositions of several types of plastic. Some uses are baby bottles, CDs, and DVDs. Scientists are unable to determine the toxicity level of type 7 plastic because there is so much variety. Type 7 plastic is also very difficult to recycle.

            To conclude, not all plastic is the same. The risks of usage and rules for recycling differ with each of the seven types. I hope that you have learned some facts about plastic from this article and are inspired to use less of it! 

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