Plastic has taken over the world. It’s become unavoidable at grocery stores, whether you’re shopping for fruit or cleaning supplies. You can also find it all throughout your home—windows and phone case, included.
Unfortunately, with how inescapable plastic is, it’s also one of the biggest sources of waste: 91 percent of plastic doesn’t get recycled, meaning it heads straight to a landfill where it can take up to 100 years to degrade.
Where there are plenty of ways to use less plastic, don’t beat yourself up if you find yourself buying something packaged in or made of plastic. Because of how frequently it’s used, it’s nearly impossible to cut it out completely.
Also, start paying closer attention to which kinds you’re using: There are seven types of plastic for recycling, which vary in how eco-friendly (and safe) they are. Below, we discuss them one by one.
The 7 Types of Plastic for Recycling
Type #1: Polyethylene Terephthalate (PETE or PET)
The body of many soda and water bottles are made from Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET or PETE). It’s safe (as long as it remains unmelted) and is widely used by the bottle and container industries. It’s also recyclable and easy to reuse and repurpose. So even if you’re given a seemingly single-use plastic like a water bottle, it’s up to you to keep it alive.
Type #2: High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE)
High-density polyethylene (HDPE) is found in everything from milk jugs to shampoo bottles and is considered safe and is recyclable. Plus, it doubles as a recycling container when you’re done with it. Just be aware that if you microwave your coffee cup, you may be exposed to bisphenol A (BPA), although it’s becoming less common.
Type #3: Vinyl (V)
Vinyl (V) is one of three plastics that are extremely difficult to recycle in curbside recycling programs. It has also been deemed unsafe since it’s been linked to the release of phthalates. Plastic wrap is the most common source of vinyl, but it can also be found in other places like windows.
Type #4: Low-Density Polyethylene (LDPE)
Low-density polyethylene (LDPE) is safe and used in a range of items, from shopping bags to freezer goods. In the past, it was tricky to curbside recycle, but it’s becoming more accepted by recycling centers. Check to see if it’s part of your curbside recycling program. If it’s not, many grocery stores have programs that accept plastic bags for recycling.
Type #5. Polypropylene (PP)
Polypropylene (PP) is one of the safest plastics and is often used for things like yogurt containers. Unfortunately, only three percent of these products get recycled in the United States. Check to see if it’s accepted in your curbside recycling program. Or, find out if the company you buy from has a recycling program of its own.
Type #6. Polystyrene (PS)
Polystyrene (PS), trademarked as Styrofoam by Dow Chemical Company (kind of like how Band-Aid is a brand-specific product but is now synonymous with bandage), is among the worst of the bunch. It’s created from the styrene, a likely human carcinogen. And it’s not easily recyclable, which means things like disposable plates and foam packaging tend to go straight to the landfill. Check Earth911 to see if there’s a drop-off center near you.
Type #7: Miscellaneous/Other
The final type of plastic, miscellaneous, is the most complicated. It basically includes all the plastics that didn’t make the cut for top six. This includes nylon, polycarbonates, and products like phone cases. This plastic blend can’t typically be recycled, but you can call and ask for specific instructions from the recycling center in your area.
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