recycling your plastics is not that hard, or is it?

are all the plastics the same? how do we reduce our impact and help in the whole recycling process?

what are the different types of plastics?


As per UNEP, more than 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic has been produced since 1950s. Plastics are primarily produced from chemicals derived from non-renewable resources like coal, oil, and natural gas. By 2050, the plastic industry could account for 20% of the world’s total oil consumption. Where is all this plastic produced going? By most estimates, only 9% of the plastic ever produced has been recycled. 12% has been incinerated and the rest is in our natural environment, oceans, landfills, and also inside us (as microplastics). 

Coming to India, according to the government, we have more than doubled the production of plastic waste in the last 5 years and 34 lakh tonnes of plastic waste was generated in 2019-20.

Plastic is highly durable and convenient, but it can also be difficult to recycle. Plastic comes in many varieties, so knowing what type of plastic you are dealing with is important when deciding how best to dispose of the material. Also, choosing between different types of plastic will enable you to reduce your overall impact - some plastics are a strict ‘ No! ‘ as there is no hope that it is going to get recycled - especially in our Indian context.  

 The seven main types of plastics and their recyclability is discussed in this article.

what are plastics?

The meaning of the word "plastic" is very easy to understand. It means that it can be molded into any shape and will retain its original form when released. This property of plastic makes it an ideal material for manufacturing different types of products like toys, containers, utensils, pipes, and other items.

However, the durability of plastic is a problem as well - it doesn’t bio-degrade. Plastic hence can go on living forever, littering our land and oceans, if we don’t do something about it. 

the different types of plastic

Plastics are essentially polymeric resins mixed with additives. 

There are seven main types of plastic that we use in our daily lives, identified by RIC codes, those numbers on the back of packs or bottom of the bottles. They are Polypropylene (PP), polyethylene terephthalate (PET), high-density polyethylene (HDPE), Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC), Polystyrene (PS), low-density polyethylene (LDPE), and others. Let’s discuss them in brief. In India, the usage of various types of plastic are shared below (we will give you this) 

PET (polyethylene terephthalate) - RIC 1

PET is used to make water bottles and PET bottles mainly. The recycling rate in PET is high - however, it is mostly downcycling. 
PET plastics are recycled and used to make carpet, furniture, and fiber for winter clothing. And they can only be recycled a limited number of times.

high-density polyethylene (HDPE) - RIC 2

High-density polyethylene (HDPE) is a thermoplastic polymer. It is a common plastic, and it is used in milk/detergent bags, carry bags, containers, etc. HDPE has good (but not great) impact strength, and it is also used in garbage bags.

The most common way to recycle HDPE is to melt it down and make new products. The melting process separates the plastic into flakes, which are then used to make a variety of new products. Another way to recycle HDPE is to grind it up and use it as a filler in asphalt. 
Pens, plastic lumber, plastic fencing, picnic tables, and bottles can be made from recycled HDPE. However, this is also a downcycling of the original material. 

polyvinyl chloride (PVC) - RIC 3

Polyvinyl chloride is the third most common synthetic plastic polymer in the world. It is classified into two types: rigid and flexible. PVC is widely used in the building and construction industry in its stiff form to manufacture door and window profiles as well as pipes. It can be made softer and more flexible by combining it with other substances and applied to plumbing, wiring, and copper cabling insulation, as well as flooring.

Despite its many benefits and the plastic industry's efforts to increase its recyclability, PVC is yet hardly recyclable and should be avoided whenever possible

low-density polyethylene (LDPE) - RIC 4

LDPE is used in plastic bottles for soft drinks, water, juice, and other beverages. It is also used in food packaging for meat, poultry, and fish. It is used to make carry bags, garbage bags, and trash cans. 

LDPE is a polymer that can be recycled. The recycling process for LDPE is very similar to the recycling of HDPE, with the exception that it is not as easily recycled due to its low melting point. However, as LDPE is low in weight, waste collection of LDPE is minimal - leading to the littering that we see all around us. 

polypropylene (PP) - RIC 5

PP is used to make medicine bottles, cereal liners, and packaging films. Polypropylene is the second-most commonly produced resource plastic, and its market is expected to expand further in the coming years. It is a hard and sturdy material that can resist high temperatures.

PP is commonly used for living hinges due to its high fatigue resistance (the thin plastic strip that allows a product part to wrap or bend from 1 to 180 degrees).

polystyrene (PS) - RIC 6

The 6th type of plastic on the list is polystyrene, which can be solid or foamed. Because it is a low-cost resin per unit weight and simple to manufacture, it can be found in a variety of applications, including beverage cups, insulation, packing materials, cereal boxes, and disposable dinnerware. Perhaps best known by its commercial name, Styrofoam, it's extremely flammable and risky because it can leach harmful chemicals when heated (which happens a lot because it's commonly found in disposable take-out cartons, and people microwave it to heat up some food inside it).

It is one of the most harmful types of plastic in terms of the environment. For starters, it is not biodegradable. Second, because of its low specific gravity, polystyrene foam floats on water and blows in the wind. Animals do not recognize it as artificial and may mistake it for food, causing serious harm to the health of seabirds animals that consume it.

To summarize, it's a no-go.

others - RIC 7

If the plastic cannot be recognized in the six types listed above, it will be classified as group number 7. Polycarbonates (PC) are the most well-known plastics in this class, and they are used to make strong durable products. Polycarbonates are commonly used in the manufacture of thermoset plastics, multilayer & laminated plastics, PUF, bakelite, polycarbonate, melamine, nylon, etc. They can, however, be found on mobile phones and, more frequently, compact discs (CD).

The use of these resins has been provocative in recent years; the basis of this dispute is their leaching, which occurs at high temperatures and releases bisphenol A, a compound on the list of potentially hazardous chemicals. Furthermore, plastic number 7 is almost never recycled.

conclusion: why does recycling plastics matter?

The reason why recycling plastics is important is that it can help us preserve the environment. By reusing and recycling plastics, we can prevent a lot of pollution from happening. The plastics that we recycle can be used to make new products. Recycling plastic saves energy, water, and natural resources. It also reduces greenhouse gas emissions, which is a great thing for the environment.
However, there are 2 challenges with the recycling of plastic in India; 

  • Poor waste segregation spoils plastic - leading to poor recycling rates 
  • The recycling sector is unorganized - hence most of the recycled items are inferior in quality 

The good thing about recycling plastics is that it is very easy to do. All you need to do is to find a company that will buy your plastic and then bring it there. 

plastic disposal in India and what can you do about this? 

Milk packs, plastic carry bags, bread wrappings, and used cosmetics bottles all end up in the same garbage can as organic waste. Most municipal agencies are now responsible for the upkeep of separate bins for wet and dry garbage in apartment complexes. 

Remember to keep vegetable peels and fish bones separate from your bread wrappers. Plastic bottles and other items can be kept clean and securely stored, or they can be sold to a kabadiwala who will take it to a recycling facility, or they can be given away to volunteer organizations who will come to your door on a regular basis to pick up plastic waste. 

Reduce your plastic footprint. An urban Indian household uses 14 to 24 kg of plastic per year. You can cut your plastic usage by switching to cloth bags while shopping, not buying water bottles, earbuds, or disposable plastic products. 

Try to avoid the worst forms of plastic, you can easily identify them based on the codes. 
Keep up to date on news that will aid in the preservation of your immediate surroundings.

Your small step can save the planet!



Photo by Pawel Czerwinski on Unsplash


Author - sonal is a professional content writer and likes to write about travel, technology, sustainability, and digital marketing. She can be found on linkedIn

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