In this guide, we outline what plastic can be recycled into, and also the potential re-use and repurposing applications of plastic.
Summary – What Can Plastic Be Recycled Into, Or Repurposed Or Re-Used For?
What Can Plastic Be Recycled Into, Or Repurposed & Re-Used For?
Different types of plastics, and different everyday plastic items are recycled into, and repurposed or re-used for different things to one another
For example, PET/PETE might commonly be recycled into, or re-used or repurposed into different things than HDPE
Milk jugs might also commonly be recycled into, or re-used or repurposed into different things than either plastic bags, plastic bottles, and bottle caps
Additionally, there are some items, products and uses that use recycled plastic material more commonly than others
The different resources referenced below give examples of each of the above points
Recycling/Repurposing Plastic vs Other Waste Management Options
It’s also worth noting – just because plastic can be recycled or repurposed into something else, it doesn’t mean the recycling of plastic is the best waste management option. We consider what the best waste management option for plastic might be in this guide
What might be noted though is that upcycling and downcycling plastic is different that recycling plastic, or incinerating it or sending it to landfill. We haven’t considered those options in that guide.
Firstly, What Plastics Are Most Commonly Recycled, & Why Aren’t Some Plastics Recycled?
Before looking at what plastic can be recycled into, and what it can be re-used and repurposed for, it’s worth understanding what plastics can and can’t be recycled, and also the reasons why some plastics can’t be or aren’t recycled.
Plastics #1 (PET) & #2 (HDPE) tend to have the highest recycling rates (at 25% to 35%) of the different plastic types by a significant margin.
Plastics #3 through #7 can have very low recycling rates (of 1 to 3%, or less), or aren’t recycled in some places at all.
What Are PET & HDPE Plastic Types Recycled Into, Or Repurposed & Re-Used For?
From a selection of resources:
#1 Plastics (plastic bottles) can become carpet, backpacks, polar fleece, sleeping bags and ski jacket insulation
#2 Plastics (plastic milk and juice bottles, and plastic detergent bottles) can become plastic lumber (like decking, docks, etc.), play sets, new bottles, buckets, containers, frisbees, and stadium seats
PETE/PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate) – can be repurposed to make textiles, carpets, pillow stuffing, life jackets, storage containers, clothing, boat sails, auto parts, sleeping bags, shoes, luggage, winter coats
HDPE (High-Density Polyethylene) – can be repurposed to make plastic crates, lumber, fencing
PET (polyethylene terephthalate) – can be turned into food-contact-approved recycled PET (RPET). RPET can be used for polyester fibres, and to create fabrics for clothing. RPET can be used for new containers, or bottles, jars, and trays. Other applications include strapping tape, injection-moulded engineering components and building materials
HDPE (high-density polyethylene) – can be recycled into new HDPE pipe, but can also be downcycled into plastic timber, tables, roadside curbs, benches, truck cargo liners, trash receptacles, stationery (e.g. rulers) and other durable plastic products
PET (#1 Plastic) – can become fiberfill for winter coats, sleeping bags, and life jackets. It can also be used to make beanbags, rope, car bumpers, tennis ball felt, combs, sails for boats, furniture and, of course, other plastic bottles
HDPE (#2 Plastic) – can become toys, piping, truck bed liners, and rope.
Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET or PETE) (e.g. plastic bottles) – recycled into stuffing for pillows, carpet backing, and even certain types of sweatshirts
High-Density Polyethylene (e.g. shampoo bottles) – recycled into other bottles, plastic lumber
What Are The Other Plastics Types Recycled Into, Or Repurposed Or Re-Used For?
From a selection of resources:
PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride) – can be repurposed to make flooring, mobile home skirting
LDPE (Low-Density Polyethylene) – can be repurposed to make garbage cans, lumber
PP (Polypropylene) – can be repurposed to make ice scrapers, rakes, battery cables
PS (Polystyrene or Styrofoam) – can be repurposed to make insulation, license plate frames, rulers
Miscellaneous Plastics (polycarbonate, polyctide, acrylic, acrylonitrile butadiene, styrene, fiberglass, and nylon) – can be repurposed to make plastic lumber (which is often used in outdoor decks, molding, and park benches
PVC (#3 Plastic) – can be ground up and reused to make vinyl flooring, window frames, or piping
LDPE (#4 Plastic) – can become thin, flexible plastics like wrapping films, grocery bags, sandwich bags, and a variety of soft packaging materials
PS (#6 Plastic) – the non foam PS can be reprocessed into many items, including rigid insulation
#7 Plastic – can be difficult to recycle
Polyvinyl Chloride – recycled into insulation for cables and drain pipes
Low-Density Polyethylene (e.g. plastic shopping bags) – recycled into plastic lumber and compost bins
Polypropylene (e.g. most bottle tops) – recycled into ice scrapers, industrial packing cases
Polystyrene (e.g. meat packing) – recycled into CD cases, office accessories
PS (polystyrene) – most PS products are not recycled [but … ] Expanded polystyrene (EPS) scrap can easily be added to products such as EPS insulation sheets and other EPS materials for construction applications. When it is not used to make more EPS, foam scrap can be turned into clothes hangers, park benches, flower pots, toys, rulers, stapler bodies, seedling containers, picture frames, and architectural molding from recycled PS. Recycled EPS is also used in many metal casting operations
Other Plastics – white plastic polystyrene foam peanuts used as packing material are often accepted by shipping stores for reuse. Agricultural plastics have been successfully recycled into much larger products for industrial applications such as plastic composite railroad ties. Road surfaces are also now being made from recycled plastics.
What Everyday Plastic Items Are Recycled Into, Or Re-Used For
According to recycleandrecoverplastics.org:
Milk Jugs & Other Plastic Containers … can become new bottles and containers, plastic lumber, picnic tables, lawn furniture, playground equipment, recycling bins and more.
Plastic Bags & Wraps … can become plastic lumber that is used to make park benches, backyard decks and fences – even playground equipment. They also can be recycled into new plastic bags – and then recycled again
Plastic Bottles … can become t-shirts, sweaters, fleece jackets, insulation for jackets and sleeping bags, carpeting and more bottles.
Bottle Caps … can become batteries for your car, garden rakes, storage containers, reusable shopping bags, yarn, ropes, brooms … and more bottle caps
Foam Packaging … can become plastic products such as insulation, picture frames, building products for your home … and more foam packaging
[In terms of plastic bottles …] A small number actually become plastic bottles again [and] More often, they’re used to make car parts, clothing, shows, pens and more (thisisplastics.com)
Most Common Products Made From Recycled Plastic
According to recyclenow.com, some of the most common products that are made from recycled plastic are:
… refuse sacks and carrier bags, underground drainage systems for homes and national infrastructure, flower pots, seed trays, watering cans and water butts, wheel arch liners and bumpers on cars, damp proof membranes, guttering and window profiles used in construction, reusable crates and pallets, wheel bins and food caddies, composters and wormeries, drinks bottles and food trays [and] polyester fabric for clothing.
Other Information On Recycling, Re-using, Repurposing Plastic
Other resources and guides that discuss the recycling, re-use or repurposing of post consumer plastic waste (and even producer level plastic waste) are:
– There are a number of articles outlining what happens to recycled plastics and recovered plastics (like ocean plastics) in the plasticsmakeitpossible.com resource