In this guide, we outline:
– The different types of plastic
– Other ways of categorising plastics
– Which types are most commonly produced
– What the different plastic types are used for
– Which ones can be recycled, and which can’t
– What they can be recycled for/repurposed to make
Summary – The Different Types Of Plastic
Different Types Of Plastic
The different types of plastic are commonly differentiated into 6 or 7 types of plastic
Those types are commonly listed as PETE/PET, HDPE, PVC, LDPE, PP, PS & ‘Other/Miscellaneous Plastics’
They are all made with different compounds, have different properties and characteristics, and can be used for different things
The different types of plastic can also come with different resin identification codes that can be shown on plastic products so the consumer knows what type of plastic resin that product is primarily made with
Most Produced Plastic By Type
The most produced plastic type is PP, followed by LD/LDPE in second place
Most Common Plastic Waste By Type
The most common plastic waste by type is LDPE, followed by PP
Different Ways To Categorise Different Plastics
There’s many ways plastic can be categorized.
We list some different categories of plastic in the guide below.
The properties of the plastic, how long it lasts, and it’s impact, can all be variables in unofficially categorising different types of plastic.
Bioplastics, & New Plastics
There are newer plastics on the market than traditional fossil fuel based plastics.
Bioplastics are made from renewable biomass feedstock instead of fossil fuel feedstock.
PLA is a common one, but PHA is also used.
A few issues with PLA is that it doesn’t decompose quickly in soil or seawater, it’s only compostable under the right conditions, and it’s not biodegradable as under normal conditions it breaks down as slowly as conventional plastics.
With PHAs specifically, they might be expensive to produce, and might have other issues
Overall, bioplastics aren’t a perfect solution to traditional plastics.
We’ve written in more detail about the potential pros and cons of bioplastics in this guide.
– Other New Plastics
PDK is a new plastic under development, that can be recycled infinitely, but may only have limited applications at this stage.
Like bioplastics, it might not be a perfect replacement for traditional plastic.
The Different Types Of Plastic
Different Types Of Plastic
According to qualitylogoproducts.com, the different types of plastic are:
Polyethylene Terephthalate (PETE or PET)
High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE)
Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC)
Low-Density Polyethylene (LDPE)
Polystyrene or Styrofoam (PS)
Miscellaneous plastics (includes: polycarbonate, polylactide, acrylic, acrylonitrile butadiene, styrene, fiberglass, and nylon).
LDPE is Low-density polyethylene; HDPE is High-density polyethylene; PP is Polypropylene; PS is Polystyrene; PVC is Polyvinyl chloride; PET is Polyethylene terephthalate, PUT is Polyurethanes, and PP&A fibres are Polyphthalamide fibres (ourworldindata.org)
Each of the above types of plastic can be made with different compounds, can have different properties and capabilities, and can be used in different ways for different things.
What Are The Rising Identification Numbers For Each Type Of Plastic?
Resin identification numbers are number that can appear on plastic products to identify the plastic resin that the product is made of
According to sustainablepackaging.org, the numbers for the different types of plastic are:
#1 – PETE (e.g. soft drink bottles)
#2 – HDPE (e.g. milk jugs)
#3 – PVC (e.g. sweet trays, bubble foils and food foils)
#4 – LDPE (e.g. shopping bags)
#5 – PP (e.g. furniture, toys and luggage)
#6 – PS (e.g. toys, refrigerator trays and hard packing)
#7 – Other (a plastic other than the above six, or a mixture of plastics … baby feeding bottles are one example).
learn.eartheasy.com in their resource list some Plastic #7 plastic examples as those including BPA, Polycarbonate, and LEXAN
qualitylogoproducts.com in their resource list some Miscellaneous Plastics as ‘polycarbonate, polyctide, acrylic, acrylonitrile butadiene, styrene, fiberglass, and nylon’
How Many Different Types Of Plastic Are There?
Based on the above, there are 6 to 7 main types of plastic.
Some people may say there are only two types of plastic – single use, and reusable plastics, but, we discuss these plastics further below in this guide when discussing the different categories of plastic.
Most Commonly Produced Plastic By Type
The most common types of polymers, produced in millions of tons, in 2015, were:
PP – 68 million tons
LD & LDPE – 64 million tons
PP&A Fibers – 59 million tons
HDPE – 52 million tons
PVC – 38 million tons
PET – 33 million tons
PUR – 27 million tons
PS – 25 million tons
Additives – 25 million tons
Other – 16 million tons
Most Common Plastic Waste By Type
Global primary plastic waste generation by polymer type, measured in tonnes per year, in 2015, was:
LD, LDPE – 57 million tonnes
PP – 55 million tonnes
PP&A Fibers – 42 million tonnes
HDPE – 40 million tonnes
PET – 32 million tonnes
PS – 17 million tonnes
PUT – 16 million tonnes
PVC – 15 million tonnes
Other polymer types – 11 million tonnes
What Are The Different Plastic Types Used For?
According to bizfluent.com:
PETE – Polyethylene Terephthalate – durable and transparent, and used for example to make plastic bottles and trays
HDPE – High density Polyethylene – light and stiff, and used for example in milk jugs, detergent bottles and sometimes plastic bags
PVC – Polyvinyl Chloride – flexible but tough, and used in heavy duty packaging bags
LDPE Low-density Polyethylene – flimsy and thin, and used for example to protect bread and other foods
PP – Polypropylene – rigid, and used for example in bottles and containers.
PS – Polystyrene – can be stiff or foamed, and used for example in packaging materials.
Above in this guide, the sustainablepackaging.org list we referenced in the plastic types section outlines different products that might use each type of plastic
There is a good table that outlines what the different plastic are used for at qualitylogoproducts.com
Acplasticsinc.com also does a good job of outlining the different types of plastic and their properties, uses and features
Different Ways To Categorise Plastic
Apart from the main types of plastic, there can be various ways to categorise plastic.
Those ways might include but aren’t limited to:
– The size of the plastic
Plastic may also be categorised by size …
[The different categories of size might be] Nano plastics, small micro plastics, large micro plastics, meso plastics, macro plastics
Microplastics are plastic particles with a diameter typically less than 5 millimetres, or in same scales less than 4.75 millimetres.
Even smaller particles, measuring less than 0.0001 millimetres (<0.1μm — micrometre) in diameter are often referred to as nanoplastics.
Plastics that act as pollutants are categorized into micro, meso, or macro debris, based on size. (wikipedia.org)
– Primary plastics vs secondary plastics (primary vs secondary microplastics are an example of this)
– Short use and higher waste plastics vs lower waste rate plastics
Disposable and single use plastics tend to be higher waste plastics
Lower waste plastics tend to either reusable plastics, or plastics that last years before they have to be disposed of
Some plastic bottles are reusable, and some types of construction plastic can last decades before having to be disposed of
ourworldindata.org has a graph showing the lifespan of plastics used in different sectors/industries
– Potentially less problematic plastics vs potentially more problematic plastics
– Other categories of plastics
There is another list of plastics outlined at wikipedia.org – under the ‘Types’ section, they list the commodity plastics, or standard plastics, engineering plastics, and specialist plastics.
There are also other ways to categorise the different types of plastic, and the different plastic products
Bioplastics, & Other Newer Types Of Plastic
In addition to the above plastics, there’s also newer plastics like bioplastics, and newly developed plastic with new chemistries.
Bioplastics are plastic materials produced from renewable biomass sources, such as vegetable fats and oils, starch from corn, potatoes and sugar cane, and so on (en.wikipedia.org)
This is in comparison to regular plastic that is made from fossil fuel feedstock, such as petroleum.
A common type of bioplastic is PLA bioplastic, but PHA bioplastics are also used in some applications (greenliving.lovetoknow.com, and en.wikipedia.org).
Bioplastics have their limitations and drawbacks though … and, those drawbacks may include:
– Biodegradable straws can be made with PLA, and PLA usually only breaks down in commercial composting facilities and conditions (greenliving.lovetoknow.com)
– … PLA does not decompose quickly in soil or seawater, [and] this can become a problem when littered. PLA will also not be of benefit in a landfill as it doesn’t suit these conditions (greenliving.lovetoknow.com)
– PLA is only compostable under the right conditions (dezeen.com)
– PLA … is not biodegradable, since under normal conditions they will break down just as slowly as conventional plastics (dezeen.com)
– PHAs are expensive to make as only limited quantities can be produced from bacteria (greenliving.lovetoknow.com)
One type of new plastic that is being developed is PDK plastic.
PDK plastic is being developed as a plastic that can be recycled infinitely and even upcycled, instead of the limited amount of times that some recyclable plastics can be recycled.
Although, PDK plastic may have limited applications for use, such as textiles, 3D printing, and foams (theengineer.co.uk)
What Types Of Plastic Can Be Recycled?
What Can The Different Plastic Types Be Recycled For/Repurposed To Make?