Household plastic waste items piled into a bin

Recycling 101

The seven types of plastic

And can you recycle them?

Plastic is amazing. But like anything, you can have too much of a good thing. When plastic was invented in the 50s it was seen as a wonder – material. It’s cheap to produce, light, strong and can be moulded into a huge variety of shapes and sizes. Pretty much overnight, plastic transformed our world, in many ways for the better, but in many ways for the worse.

70 years later and the world is drowning in the stuff. Of all the plastic ever produced only a fraction of it has been recycled. When it gets into the natural environment, it can destroy habitats, kill animals that eat it and breakdown into micro-plastics; of which the impact on the environment and on our health we don’t fully understand.

The best way of protecting the natural environment and our health is to recycle plastic responsibly and to reduce how much we use where possible. Check our zero waste hub for more info.

Not all plastics can be recycled, though. Plastic is often stamped with a number from 1 to 7 which will tell you if you can or can’t recycle that item. Read on to find out more about the types of plastic out there.

Plastic PET icon

PET / PETE

PET or PETE is mostly used to make single-use bottles because it’s cheap, light, easy to recycle and there’s a low risk of chemical leaching into the liquid it contains.

Found in

  • Water bottles
  • Ketchup
  • Mouthwash bottles
  • Peanut butter containers
  • Salad dressing and vegetable oil containers

How to recycle

Empty and rinse the container and recycle from home, at work or on the go. There’s no need to remove bottle labels – this is done at the recycling plant by special machinery.

Recycled into

  • Tote bags
  • Furniture
  • Carpets
  • New bottles and food containers
Plastic HDPE icon

HDPE

HDPE is a versatile plastic with many uses, especially when it comes to packaging. It carries low risk of leaching and is easily recycled into new items.

Found in

  • Milk and juice bottles
  • Bleach and other household cleaner bottles
  • Shampoo bottles
  • Butter and yogurt tubs
  • Plastic bags

How to recycle

Recycle at home, at work or on the go. Flimsy plastics (plastic bags and film) can’t be recycled from home, but most supermarkets have plastic bag recycling points where you can drop these off for recycling.

Recycled into

  • Laundry detergent bottles
  • Pens
  • Benches
  • Dog houses
  • Picnic tables
  • Fencing
  • Shampoo bottles
Plastic PVC icon

PVC or V

PVC (polyvinyl chloride) and V (vinyl) is a tough material, so it’s usually used to make things like drain pipes or playground equipment. PVC is also cheap, so it’s found in loads of products and packaging. Because chlorine is part of PVC’s chemical make-up, dangerous dioxins can be released during the manufacturing process. You should never burn PVC because it releases toxins which will damage your health, that of those around you, and the environment.

Found in

  • Medicine blister packs
  • Windows
  • Drain pipes

How to recycle

PVC can rarely be recycled and definitely can’t be recycled from home. Put smaller items, like medicine blister packs in the bin. Larger things, like gutters and window sills can go to your local tip or reuse and recycling centre.

Recycled into

  • Flooring
  • Cables
  • Speed bumps
  • Mats
Plastic LDPE icon

LDPE

LDPE is a flexible plastic which is used in lots of different products.

Found In

  • Toothpaste tubes
  • Bread bags
  • Frozen food bags
  • Furniture

How to recycle

Most councils don’t collect this plastic for recycling, so you’ll need to throw it in the bin. TerraCycle does deal with lots of hard-to-recycle items though, so check them out here. Things like plastic bags, bread bags, films and frozen veg bags can be recycled at supermarket plastic bag recycling points.

Recycled into

  • Compost bins
  • Floor tiles
Plastic polypropylene icon

PP

PP has a high melting point, so it’s often chosen for containers that will hold hot liquid.

Found in

  • Some yogurt pots
  • Syrup and medicine bottles
  • Bottle caps
  • Straws

How to recycle it

PP is collected by lots of councils for recycling. If the container did contain food or liquid, make sure you’ve rinsed it clean.

Recycled into

  • New pots, tubs and trays
Plastic polystyrene icon

PS

PS can be made into rigid or foam products and is notoriously difficult to recycle.

Found in

  • Disposable plates and cups
  • Meat trays
  • Egg cartons
  • Take-away containers

How to recycle it

Polystyrene can’t be recycled and should go in your rubbish bin. Avoid it if possible or try and reuse it.

Plastic other icon

Miscellaneous

A wide variety of plastic types that don’t fit into the other six categories are put into this seventh category.

Found in

  • Bullet-proof materials
  • Sunglasses
  • DVDs
  • Nylon

How to recycle it

This plastic can’t be recycled from home. If you have things like DVDs and sunglasses you no longer need, donate them to a charity shop if they’re in good condition or share on platforms like eBay, Freegle, Gively or many more. TerraCycle offers a CD and DVD recycling programme which you can use. Otherwise, these things will need to go in a rubbish bin.

If you’re still not sure whether a plastic item can be recycled, check our A-Z of recycling.

A-Z of recycling

You can use our A-Z search to find out information about most things you can recycle and where to recycle them.

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