How to Recycle Different Plastics
Nowadays, plastic items have become a fundamental part of our day-to-day lives. In our culture of convenience, plastic has unfortunately become a staple material, and we can find it everywhere around us; bottles, food packaging, clothes, and much more.
The most common types of plastics
When we talk about plastics, we often associate them with one single material, but there are many variations. Plastics are mostly synthetic materials that consist of polymers, which are long molecules made of smaller units called monomers. Synthetic plastics are made from oil, gas, or coal, put under high pressure and temperature, and moulded to specific shapes and forms to create the plastic packaging and items we have in our homes
There are many different types of plastics; strong, flexible, heat-resistant, brittle, transparent, opaque, and many more. Here are some of the most common plastics we use daily:
- Polypropylene (PP): This plastic is durable, flexible, and heat resistant. Some of the most common polypropylene plastics are in food packaging and containers, straws, bottle caps, and medical devices.
- Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC or Vinyl): This variety of plastic is stiff, rigid, and resistant to chemicals. It is present in food packaging, children’s toys, vinyl flooring, and tablecloth – and it contains harmful toxins to human health.
- Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET): This plastic is characterised by its strength and is resistant to chemicals and water. Some common examples are water bottles, soft drink bottles, and condiment bottles.
- High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE): Easily identifiable in milk and juice bottles, detergent bottles, and grocery bags, HDPE is a strong plastic resistant to moisture and chemicals.
- Low-Density Polyethylene (LDPE): This variety is soft, transparent, and flexible.
- Some of the most common items with LDPE are plastic wraps, bread bags, bubble wraps, beverage cups, disposable packaging, and plastic bags.
- Polystyrene (PS): Also known as styrofoam, this plastic is rigid and insulating and contains harmful toxins to human health. This plastic is present in cups, plates, take-out containers, and shipping and product packaging.
The Plastics Challenge
While plastics have found countless uses in our society and have been economically very viable, they come at a detrimental cost to the environment and human health.
- They actively contribute to the pollution crisis: Around 76% of plastic produced from 1950 – 2017 has become plastic waste, which ends up consuming itself in landfills or irresponsibly dumped in nature. In today’s world, plastic is everywhere and in everything – in the soil we harvest, in the freshwater we consume, in the air we breathe, and even in the biggest source of oxygen on earth: the ocean.
- Plastics are produced with non-renewable resources: Most plastics come from chemicals sourced from fossil fuels. Fossil fuels are a big contributor to climate change, as they pollute the air and generate greenhouse gas emissions.
- They represent a threat to human health: Science has shown us that daily exposure to plastics that release toxic chemical additives is dangerous for our health. Research shows that plastic chemicals and particles have led to issues in reproductive health, brain health, chronic diseases, and cancer.
- Plastics contribute to air, water, and soil pollution: Plastic waste leaches toxic chemicals into the ground seeping into our groundwater and the ecosystems. For example, plastic additives such as BPA have disruptive effects on the hormone system, which are adverse to human and animal health.
- They harm wildlife: Millions of animals have died from entangling or starvation by plastics. Microplastics have been found in many aquatic and bird animal species, blocking digestive tracts and causing death.
Recycling as part of the solution
The global plastic pollution problem cannot be solved through recycling alone. Recycling will not help us remove the plastics in the oceans or landfills, as this challenge is too big and complex to solve only through recycling. However, most plastics can be recycled and used as a new material input for new products and items.
A study found in 2019 that only 9% of global plastics are recycled. Sounds quite discouraging, right? Fortunately, there are things you can do as a consumer to reduce the need for generating new plastic, such as
- Reducing your overall need for plastics and opting for plastic-free alternatives to the best of your ability.
- Making sure to recycle plastic items and packaging correctly. Plastic recycling reduces our need for more fossil fuels and landfill space, saves energy, and reduces emissions of greenhouse gases.
Recycling plastic print
In the UK, household plastic waste, such as plastic packaging, belongs in a plastic waste container, which is either combined with other waste streams or separate. For bulkier waste, such as banners and flags for example, it is advised to dispose of your plastic waste at your local recycling centre or organise a collection by a recycling company.
Our alternatives at HelloPrint
As seen above, many products and items that surround us on daily basis have harmful effects on the environment. Luckily, there’s one thing you can start doing to prevent plastic from taking over – avoid such material and opt for natural and organic alternatives to plastics.
At Helloprint, we offer alternatives to usual plastic printed products, such as reboard stands, standing tables, and cardboard panels:
When it comes to electronic print products, plastic is, unfortunately, the standard material for many of our items. However, we offer various bamboo alternatives in such cases, which help reduce plastic pollution and energy consumption.
Do you want to learn more about recycling best practices for custom-printed products? Check out our sustainability blog to learn more about how to reduce and reuse materials, as well as how to best recycle all kinds of printed materials.