Which Plastic Materials Are Recyclable

One common question about plastics is, “Which Plastic Materials Are Recyclable?”

As a follow-up question, we are frequently asked what the numbers inside the recycle logo mean.

The quick answer is that all thermoplastic materials are actually recyclable. The term ‘thermoplastic’ means a material that can be re-heated and re-formed. This is what recycling of a plastic material is, re-heating and converting old plastic parts into new plastic parts. Recycling.

The big issue is that most plastic recycling companies are designed to make money, and therefor they choose to process the most popular thermoplastic materials.

Here is a quick explanation of the numbers inside the recycle logos.

#1 – PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate)

The PET is the clear material that most clear water bottles and 2 liter soda bottles is made from. Very light weight and very stiff for the weight of the material used. There are several grades of the PET type material, the PETE is the common material used in the water bottles, and clear sheet made from PETG is a popular plastic materials for clear vacuum formed parts.

#2 – HDPE (High-Density Polyethylene)

HDPE or High Density Polyethylene is widely used in food prep and food storage. Most white plastic cutting boards are HDPE, the one gallon milk jugs are HDPE, and lids to food storage containers are normally HDPE. This rigid HDPE sheet material is FDA approved plastic material is inexpensive, light weight and very durable. And yes, very recyclable.

#3 – PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride)

PVC is probably best known as the white irrigation/sprinkler pipe, or the gray electrical conduit. PVC is one of the most widely used plastics for things like the impossible to open packaging of new products, plastic home siding, vinyl windows, rot resistant home fencing and many more common applications. PVC is inexpensive, durable and tough.

#4 – LDPE (Low-Density Polyethylene)

LDPE is a softer, more pliable version of the HDPE. Very light weight, abrasion resistant and in thin sections is flexible. The old coffee can lids were LDPE, it is also excellent in the food applications, great for impact resistance, bumpers and stencils. Once again, low cost is a plus for LDPE, and of course, it is recyclable.

#5 – PP (Polypropylene)

This material is a popular materials for rigid and low weight products. Once again, a popular material for food applications, and the semi-clear food storage containers are Natural Polypropylene. In thicker gauges, it is frequently welded (glue doesn’t stick to PolyPro) into things like storage containers, chemical tanks, and chemical work surfaces. Fume hoods in chemical areas are commonly made items in Polypropylene due to the excellent chemical resistance.

#6 – PS (Polystyrene)

Polystyrene is perhaps the least expensive plastics. It is used frequently in the disposable signage, ‘For Sale’ signs, graphics and art printable surfaces. The largest usage is in the foamed version of styrene, yes, you guessed it Styrofoam. Thin sheets of High Impact Styrene (HIS) are frequently used for vacuum forming of trays, display parts, small cups and much more. It can be bonded easily, painted or printed, welded and fused. Lids for disposable coffee cups are normally vacuum formed HIS sheet.

#7 – Other

This one is a bit tougher, because it incorporates all the thermoplastics that are recyclable, but aren’t the items listed above. These include Acrylic (commonly called Lucite® or Plexiglas®), Polycarbonate (frequently called Lexan®, Makrolon® or Tuffak®), Nylon® (Polyamide), and many, many more. This category contains some of the best materials in the Performance Plastic classification. These materials are almost never used as ‘single use’ application materials. Generally Performance Plastic is something that is converted, and then put into use, and doesn’t wear out for long periods of time, generally many years. Performance Plastic materials generally replace materials that don’t last as long or rust, corrode, crack or break ending that materials life cycle.

Common recycling plastic numbers

Common recycling plastic numbers