The Different Types Of Plastic: What They Are, Uses, & More

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

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.

Having said that, some bioplastics can break down much quicker than traditional plastics under the right conditions

With PHAs specifically, they might be expensive to produce, and might have other issues

Overall, bioplastics aren’t a perfect solution to traditional plastics.

 

– 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)

Polypropylene (PP)

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

– theconversation.com

 

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

– ourworldindata.org

 

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

 

In this guide, we specifically outline how the different types of plastic might be used specifically for plastic packaging

 

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

From OurWorldInData.org:

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

Some types of plastic packaging can be single use and have a high waste rate

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

Some plastics may have more potential to do harm or create problems than other 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

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)

 

New Plastics

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?

Read more about the different types of plastic that can be recycled and that aren’t recycled as commonly in this guide.

 

What Can The Different Plastic Types Be Recycled For/Repurposed To Make?

Read more on what plastic can be recycled and repurposed into in this guide.

 

 

Sources

1. https://www.qualitylogoproducts.com/promo-university/different-types-of-plastic.htm 

2. https://ourworldindata.org/grapher/plastic-waste-polymer 

3. https://theconversation.com/the-world-of-plastics-in-numbers-100291 

4. https://ourworldindata.org/plastic-pollution#ocean-plastic-sources-land-vs-marine 

5. https://bizfluent.com/13657035/six-types-of-plastic-used-for-packaging 

6. https://ourworldindata.org/grapher/mean-product-lifetime-plastic 

7. https://www.alive.com/lifestyle/plastic-pros-and-cons/

8. https://www.acplasticsinc.com/informationcenter/r/7-different-types-of-plastic-and-how-they-are-used

9. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plastic_pollution

10. https://ourworldindata.org/faq-on-plastics

11. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plastic

12. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/what-can-plastic-be-recycled-into-reused-repurposed-for/

12. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/what-is-plastic-used-for-in-society-sectors-that-use-the-most-plastic/

13. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/what-plastics-can-cannot-be-recycled-how-to-find-out/

14. https://sustainablepackaging.org/101-resin-identification-codes/#targetText=The%20numbers%201%20through%206,6%20means%20polystyrene%20(PS).

15. https://greenliving.lovetoknow.com/Type_of_Biodegradable_Plastic

16. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bioplastic

17. https://www.dezeen.com/2019/04/15/bioplastics-bad-environment-damage-arthur-huang/

18. https://www.theengineer.co.uk/pdk-plastic-circular-upcycle/

19. https://learn.eartheasy.com/articles/plastics-by-the-numbers/

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