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From water bottles to containers and mobile devices to carrying bags, plastic has found way in our daily lives. The fact that there are different kinds of plastic is not known to a lot of people. All these types differ from each other in terms of their reusability and toxicity. Moreover, some of them can be recycled while some of them can’t.
Having a general idea about the different types of plastic can enable you to make smarter decisions by considering the safety of the plastic product.
The credit for this goes to the Society of Plastic Industry that came up with the Resin Identification Code (RIC) in 1988. The RIC categorized plastic resins into seven different types and is now recognized as the standard plastic classification around the globe.
The aim of this classification was to develop a consistent national system to enable the recycling of post-consumer plastic products.
Following are the seven different types of plastic:
The first category of plastics is known as polyethylene terephthalate or PET. It’s used universally as the most common type of plastic. Its innate ability to prevent oxygen from seeping in makes it suitable to be used for food and drink packaging. Polyethylene terephthalate is also known to be the most recycled plastic in the world.
High-density Polyethylene or HDPE is a highly resistant resin that is used in the production of grocery bags, agricultural pipes, playground tools, shampoo containers, etc. Its strength and sturdiness are attributed to its long unbranched polymer chains. This makes them thicker than PET. Its high resistance enables it to withstand temperatures of up to 120 degrees. Another advantage of HDPE is its ease of recycling which makes its disposal convenient.
PVC or Polyvinyl Chloride is one of the most commonly produced synthetic polymers in the world. It has two forms: rigid and flexible. Its rigid form is generally used in the building and construction industries for making door and window profiles, as well as pipes for carrying drinking water and wastewater. In its flexible form, obtained by mixing it with other substances, it is used for plumbing, wiring, insulation, and flooring.
PVC is gradually substituting building materials like metal, wood, concrete, rubber, and ceramics owing to its versatility, lightness, flexibility, and durability.
However, PVC is not easily recyclable despite the widespread efforts of the plastic industry to make it reusable. Therefore, PVC should be avoided whenever possible.
LDPE or low-density polyethylene consists of low-density molecules, making it thinner and more flexible. It has the simplest structure among all the types of plastic resins. LDPE is also more convenient and cheap to produce. It finds its use in plastic bags, dispensing bottles, containers, and plastic wraps, among others. However, it is not recycled as much.
PP or polypropylene is the second-most commonly generated commodity plastic. Polypropylene’s market is expected to grow rapidly in the future. PP is characterized by its hardness and sturdiness. It can withstand high temperatures and is used in Tupperware, thermal vests, perishable food containers, and disposable diapers. Another interesting application of PP is in living hinges, owing to its resistance to fatigue.
PS or polystyrene can either be in solid or foam form. It is inexpensive and easy to produce, allowing it to be used widely in cups, insulation, packing materials, and disposable dinnerware. Polystyrene, also commonly known as Styrofoam, is prone to leaching hazardous chemicals when heated. This makes it highly flammable, and hence dangerous.
However, as far as its impact on the environment is concerned, it’s one of the worst types of plastic. It is non-biodegradable and has a tendency to float on the water on account of its low specific gravity. That can seriously harm animals who mistakenly ingest and even swallow it.
Moreover, curbside collection recycling programs reject polystyrene, making it unfavorable for use.
This category includes all types of plastics that do not fall in any of the above categories. The most common plastic in this category is Polycarbonates (PC), used to build strong and sturdy materials. They are used in eye protection in the form of sunglasses, safety goggles, sports goggles, etc. However, they are also used in mobile phones and compact discs (CDs).
It is important to note that these plastic resins are becoming controversial owing to leaching compounds like bisphenol A at high temperatures. Bisphenol A is a potentially dangerous chemical for the environment that doesn’t decompose and can find its way into water bodies causing water pollution. Additionally, the plastics in this category are seldom recycled.
We hope you now have some clarity on the different types of plastic and their uses. We always recommend that you buy and use the reusable types and recycle them as much as possible to avoid environmental damage.