What types of plastic cannot be recycled?

Unfortunately, not all plastics can be recycled. There are three types of plastic that cannot be recycled – PVC, PS and other. These plastics are usually found in containers for food like milk jugs and soda bottles. They’re also found in plastic bags we get from the grocery store or even our clothing!

The four plastics that can be recycled are: Plastic 1 –  Polyethylene Terephthalate (PETE), Plastic 2 – High density Polyethylene (HDPE), Plastic 4 – Low-density Polyethylene (LDPE), and Plastic 5 – Polypropylene (PP).

Different plastic types are made of different materials, which justifies why not all of them are recyclable. There may be other plastic types that are technically recyclable, but would only yield toxic chemicals if we try recycling them.

Waste framework and why it matters in recycling plastic

Waste framework directive sets out that waste should be dealt with in accordance with the waste hierarchy, with legislation aiming to move waste management up the hierarchy. 

Plastic recycling fits into waste hierarchy as an efficient and sustainable use of both materials and resources. The plastic industry also supports these reduction and reuse measures.

Waste Hierarchy

  1. Prevention. This involves the reduction of resources used in manufacturing. This phase ensures that products last for a long time even when using less materials to create them.
  2. Preparation for reuse. This includes repairing, cleaning, refurbishing and checking.
  3. Recycling. Said to be the most effective way to manage wastes, recycling allows a certain product to be repurposed into something useful.
  4. Other recovery. This includes Incineration to produce energy, anaerobic digestion, gastification, and pyrolysis to produce either fuel heat or electricity.
  5. Disposal. This is when wastes end in landfill or incineration without energy recovery.
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Identifying plastic for recycling

Plastic recycling is indeed a minefield for most of us. Local authorities have tried to make it easier by using terms such as plastic bottles, margarine tubs and yoghurt pots. However, identifying plastics by type could be tricky if we do not know the specifics.

  1. PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate) – Recyclable. PETE plastic is the most widely recycled, and is also the easiest to recycle. Often used for single use clear plastic bottles, they also exist as oven ready trays, fizzy pop bottles, mouthwash bottles, and jam jars. PET can be recycled into polyester fabric and filling for fleeces, carpets and cushion fillings.
  1. HDPE (High Density Polyethylene) – Recyclable. Although HDPE is recyclable, you will need to check your local authority to ensure it is recycled in your area. HDPE is often found in stiff coloured bottles and tubs for ice cream, margarine, and milk. It is also used to produce chemical drums, toys, carrier bags, and plastic bottle caps. HDPE can be recycled into pens and detergent bottles.
  1. PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride) – Non Recyclable. Because PVC has a high percentage of toxic chemicals, it is not recyclable in normal collections. Often made into plastic pipes, hoses, cable insulation, cling film, and credit cards, this type of plastic releases toxins causing respiratory problems when ingested.
  1. LDPE (Low density Polyethylene) – Recyclable. LDPE can be recycled. But like HDPE,  you may have to check with your local authority to ensure it is recycled in your area. This hard flexible plastic is made into bubble wraps, bead bags, water and gas pipes, frozen food bags, and chemical tank lining.
  1. PP (Polypropylene) – Recyclable.  PP is also a recyclable type of plastic. However, like other plastic types, not all areas recycle this material. PP is used to manufacture plastic straws, packing tapes, ketchup bottles, battery cases, medical components, and crates. It is recycled into garden rakes, brooms, and brushes.
  1. PS (Polystyrene) – Non recyclable. PS is not recyclable in normal collections. Like PVC, PS has a high percentage of toxic chemicals posing health hazards. This type of plastic is commonly used in producing plastic utensils, insulation, meat trays, and Styrofoam.
  1. OTHER – Non recyclable. OTHER plastics are not recyclable in normal collections. This categories all other plastics including bioplastics, composite plastics (crisp wrappers), plastic coated wrapping paper and polycarbonate (which contain BPA) .
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Closed loop and open loop recycling

As more plastic is recovered and recycled, it provides an increasing amount of raw materials for the recycling sector, which can be used for either “closed loop” or “open loop” recycling. 

Closed loop recycling means a product is recycled into another, almost identical product. A simple example of this is recycling a PET drink bottle into a new PET drink bottle. 

On the other hand, open loop recycling means a product turned into a new type of product. A good example would be recycled plastic packaging turned into a plastic water pipe, a park bench or even a pair of trainers. 

Although many environmentalists favour closed loop recycling, open loop recycling is still valuable. Products like park benches have very long lives. Using recycled materials is often more resource efficient, and applications like these provide a market for recycled plastic. 

Common questions about the type of plastic that cannot be recycled

How can you tell if plastic is recyclable?

The (OPRL) on-pack recycling label provides data to consumers about whether a plastic product can be recycled. Retailers and brand owners are encouraged to use this to help communicate with the public on what can and cannot be recycled. 

Are all types of plastic recyclable?

No. Only four types of plastic are recyclable. These are Plastic 1 –  Polyethylene Terephthalate (PETE), Plastic 2 – High density Polyethylene (HDPE), Plastic 4 – Low-density Polyethylene (LDPE), and Plastic 5 – Polypropylene (PP).

What plastic items can not be recycled?

Plastic products made from PVC, polystyrene, and other plastics not mentioned above are not readily recyclable. Some may be recycled in special conditions, but could be a potential cause of respiratory problems.

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Plastic has been this modern world’s inevitable reality. Despite the looming crisis in plastic pollution, plastic production never stops. It is understandable how people find it challenging to completely turn their back on plastic, so it is crucial for everyone to know what each type is made of to be able to at least choose which leaves the least damage to the environment.

What types of plastic Cannot be recycled?

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