Decoding the Enigma of Plastic Codes

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London, United Kingdom
20th November 2019

Decoding the Enigma of Plastic Codes


Plastic has become the most used material in our everyday lives. Going without it takes a huge amount of dedication and effort. Many people have tried eliminating plastics from their homes, but finding alternatives for the uses we have become accustomed to can be a real challenge. Nearly everything we buy from supermarkets involves some sort of plastic packaging. Being informed on what plastics you should avoid, and how to dispose of them is the first step in reducing the amount of plastic waste we produce.

Most common plastics are organised under 7 symbols. These are the famous three-arrowed recycling symbols, containing a number 1-7:

1. PETE – Polyethylene/ Terephthalate

These are the thin clear one-use plastics used for water bottles, oil bottles and soft drinks. A common plastic that is recyclable, but often ends up at landfill.

2. HDPE – High-Density Polyethylene

A thick, opaque plastic used for milk jugs, juice bottles and most bathroom products. Recyclable through local councils, except for carrier bags, which are accepted at local supermarkets.

3. PVC – Polyvinyl Chloride

Available in rigid and flexible states, this plastic should be avoided if possible. It is recycled in some areas, but its manufacture produces dioxin (potent carcinogen) and may contain the hormone disrupting chemical phthalate. It is used mainly in food packaging, flooring, window frames and shower curtains as well as many others.

4. LDPE – Low-Density Polyethylene

A very soft and flexible plastic used for clingfilm and bin bags. One of the safer plastics which is also recyclable.

5. PP – Poly-Propylene

Another safe and recyclable plastic. It is used for lots of containers such as; yoghurt pots, salad bar containers and drinking straws due to the hard yet flexible structure.

6. PS – Polystyrene

Avoid this non-recyclable product at all costs! The rigid plastic is used mainly for shipping purposes; Styrofoam packaging, for example, as well as disposable plates and coffee cups. Nearly all of it goes to landfill where it can leach styrene – a harmful neurotoxin into the environment.

7. Other – includes Polycarbonate, Bioplastic, Acrylic.

Whilst bioplastic can’t be recycled, being derived from natural oils means it is fully biodegradable with no harmful effects to the environment. Because these plastics are biodegradable they aren’t accepted for recycling due to added chemicals. You find these in some water bottles, the lining of metal food cans as well as clear plastic cutlery.

Keep an eye out for these symbols on your plastic products, to better understand which plastics can be recycled at your local waste recycling plant. With this information, you can organise your waste accordingly to ensure as much as possible is being recycled.