What is plastic made of and how do you recycle it?

We’ve all heard the mantra: plastic is terrible. Not just for the environment, including sea life, but it is bad for us too. 

The UK has already significantly increased its efforts to recycle plastic. In 2000, 13,000 tonnes of plastic bottles were recycled. Now, over 370,000 tonnes are recycled annually. That’s a stat that really makes us smile. It’s more challenging to measure the growth of recycling worldwide, as measurement differs from country to country.

The tricky thing about recycling plastic is that there are seven different types. Yes, seven. So it’s easy to get confused about what products can and can’t be recycled, and how. But don’t worry, we’re here to help. 

What is the main ingredient in plastic?

There may be multiple types of plastic, but they all come under two categories that consist of the same main ingredients: 

  • Synthetic plastic: The main ingredient in this type of plastic tends to be crude oil, natural gas or coal
  • Biobased plastic: These are made from a renewable ingredient such as starch, carbohydrates, oils and vegetable fats etc.

Sadly, most plastic is synthetic, but demand is increasing for biobased plastic; we are looking forward to the day when the tables turn, and most plastic comes from renewable ingredients. 

how plastic is made

As you can see, the process of making plastic seems a little broad, but that’s because plastic is essentially polymer resin mixed with blended additives. The ingredients change depending on the type of plastic being made.

What are the 7 types of plastic?

There are seven recipes for plastic. You most likely have most types of plastic in your kitchen cupboards as you read:

  1. Polyethylene Terephthalate – also known as PETE or PET
  2. Polypropylene- also referred to as PP
  3. High-Density Polyethylene – also known as HDPE
  4. Polystyrene/Styrofoam – also referred to as PS
  5. Polyvinyl Chloride – also known as PVC
  6. Low-Density Polyethylene – also known as LDPE
  7. Other – yes, there is actually a plastic category called other

How to know which plastics are recyclable

When it comes to recycling, it can be extremely confusing. How do you know what can be recycled whole? Or what needs the lids to be removed before recycling etc.? While packagers are getting a lot better at adding these instructions, it isn’t mandatory to do so. 

However, if the packaging has an identification code, it is easier to ascertain whether or not it is recyclable:

Type of plasticIdentification codeCommon usesRecyclable?
PETE/PETFood traysJam and peanut butter jarsWater and other drink bottlesOven ready traysCooking oil containersYes
HDPEFood wrapsCleaning containersCarrier bagsShampoo bottlesKitchenwareMilk containersYes
PVCCling filmNo
LDPECarrier bagsThe plastic wrapping around breadFresh produce wrappingsSometimes – we recommend a quick web search to be sure
PPBottle capsBattery casesRigid packagingCosmetic packsYogurt / margarine / sour cream containersStrawsYes
PSPeanuts (the kind you use in packing)Disposable coffee cupsTake out food containersSometimes – we recommend a quick web search to be sure

If you can’t find the code, check the bottom of the product as it might be there.

The big question: How do you recycle your plastic?

To recycle, we have to get our household waste to the right place. Recycle Now is a fantastic website to find out where to recycle a specific item, what to put in your recycling bin at home and how to find the closest recycling locations to you. 

They even have a webpage where you can type in the plastic product you have for advice on how best to recycle it.

Of course, the BEST way to reduce plastic waste, in our opinion, is to try and cut it out as much as possible. Opt for:

  1. Glass sauce bottles over plastic ones (Use our squeezers to get every last drop out) 
  2. Opt for soap and shampoo bars rather than plastic bottles
  3. Buy a reusable bottle or travel mug for your drinks
  4. Invest in glass, metal or even bamboo straws
  5. Buy loose fruit and vegetables and use a cloth bag
  6. Choose a wine with a cork stopper rather than a screw lid
  7. Make your own natural cleaning substances rather than buying branded versions
  8. Opt for metal shavers
  9.  Make your own condiments – check out our recipe for tomato sauce

We appreciate that reducing plastic use, or even recycling plastic properly, sounds time-consuming and difficult. Why not try one thing from this list at a time and ease into the practice? If you try it, we’d love to hear how you get on.

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