What Plastics Can & Cannot Be Recycled?

In this guide, we’ve outlined the types of plastics and plastic items that can and cannot recycled.

We also outline how you might find out what plastics can and can’t be recycled in your local area.


Summary – What Plastics Can & Cannot Be Recycled

What Plastics Can Be Recycled?

Some of the most widely recycled plastics might be PET (Plastic #1) and HDPE (Plastic #2). According to learn.eartheasy.com, PET and HDPE are recycled at far higher rates than other plastics in the US specifically

We’ve included examples of common plastic items that are typically made from these plastics in the guide below


What Plastics Can Sometimes Be Recycled?

There’s a range of plastics that can sometimes be recycled, depending on the local recycling programs and capabilities in the area

We’ve listed some of these plastics in the guide below


What Plastics Can’t Be Recycled?

Polystyrene is a plastic that is commonly listed as not being accepted in many curbside recycling programs and streams

However, some specialised programs may recycle polystyrene, along with other plastics that aren’t accept in curbside recycling


Ultimately, Local Recycling Programs & Recycling Capabilities Determine What Plastics Can & Can’t Be Recycled

Local recycling programs and capabilities differ between towns and cities

Therefore, the plastics that can and can’t be recycled differ between towns and cities too.

It’s also possible that some plastics may not be accepted in curbside recycling programs in a town or city, but there may be specialised recycling programs that have the processes and machinery to recycle specific types of plastic. For example, some specialised recycling streams/programs may specifically recycle disposable plastic bags and straws that aren’t accepted in curbside recycling (just as two potential examples).

So, instead of generalising plastics are recyclable and non-recyclable, it might be more accurate to indicate whether a plastic is recyclable in a specific locale or not (depending on the recycling programs and capabilities in the area).


Checking What Plastic Types & Plastic Items Can Be Recycled In Your Local Area

– Search online for your local council’s curbside recycling programs. You should be able to see information for the types of plastic and types of items that can be recycled, and how to sort them into your bins to be recycled

– Search for private recycling companies or specialised recycling programs in your area that might recycling specific types of plastic


Checking What Type Of Plastic A Product Is Made Of

Some common plastic products have the ‘Plastic Resin Identification Code’ of the plastic that makes up that product or item on the product/item itself.

The plastic identification code numbers range from #1 through to #7, with each code number representing a different type of plastic.


Recycling Rates Of Plastic In Different Countries

Plastic as a material may generally have a low recycling rate compared to other materials in some countries


Firstly, What Are The Different Types Of Plastic?

There are a range of different types of plastic

These plastics are often identified by their ‘Plastic Resin Identification Code’, which are numbers ranging from #1 to #7. A full table showing the codes and the associated plastics can be found online.

But, there are also different types of plastic products that use one or multiple types of plastics.

For example, a sport drink bottle might use multiple different types of plastic. 


What Plastics Can Be Recycled?

Plastic Types

ourworldindata.org lists these types of plastics as being widely recycled:

HDPE – widely recycled

PET – widely recycled


qualitylogoproducts.com lists these types of plastics as being recyclable:

PETE or PET – recyclable

HDPE – recyclable


The most commonly recycled plastics are #1 (soda bottles) and # 2 (milk jugs, laundry detergent bottles) (maine.gov)


learn.eartheasy.com has some figures on the recycling rates of different plastic types (by plastic resin identification code) in the US. They indicate:

Plastic #1 (PET) – about 25% of PET bottles in the US today are recycled

Plastic #2 (HDPE) – only about 30-35% of HDPE plastic used in America gets recycled each year

[Comparatively, the other plastics have far lower recycling rates, such as PVC at lower than 1%, or, the other plastics are either not always recyclable, not widely recyclable, or not for reuse at all]

We’ve included the full learn.eartheasy.com excerpt in this guide about plastic recycling rates comparative to other materials


From forbes.com “[The reality is] many plastics simply cannot be effectively recycled. Even the most recyclable plastic, PET – or polyethylene terephthalate – is only recycled at a rate of 20-30%, with the rest typically going to incinerators or landfills”.


Our own online search showed Plastic #1 (PET), and Plastic #2 (HDPE) as some of the most widely recycled plastics too.


Which Plastics Are Sometimes Recyclable?

Plastic Types

ourworldindata.org lists these types of plastics as being sometimes recyclable depending on local factors:

PP – sometimes recycled depending on local context

PP&A Fibers – sometimes recycled depending on local context

PVC – sometimes recycled depending on local context


qualitylogoproducts.com lists these types of plastics as being sometimes recyclable:

PVC – sometimes recyclable

LDPE – sometimes recyclable


PS (polystyrene) – most PS products are not recycled due to the lack of incentive to invest in the compactors and logistical systems required (wikipedia.org)


Plastic Products & Items

blog.nationalgeographic.org lists these plastic products/items as being recyclable with specific machinery:

Coffee Cups – a special machine is needed to recycle them


Soft plastic such as plastic straws and plastic bags often can’t be recycled through curbside recycling streams 

But – some cities do offer services specific soft plastic recycling services. You can search online for them in your area 


Which Plastics Can’t Be Recycled?

Plastic Types

ourworldindata.org lists these types of plastics as being non recyclable:

LD, LDPE – non recyclable

PS – non recyclable

PUT – non recyclable

Other polymer types – non recyclable


qualitylogoproducts.com lists these types of plastics as being not recyclable:

PP – not recyclable

PS – not recyclable

Other plastics like nylon and styrene – not recyclable


Plastic Products & Items

blog.nationalgeographic.org lists these plastic products/items as being not recyclable:

Plastic Bags – not recyclable

Straws – not recyclable


Black plastic trays are an example of a plastic item that might not be able to be recycled in some locales because recycling machines may not be able to detect the black pigmentation of the tray.


Other Plastics

Plastics contaminated with some types of other waste or substances might not be able to be recycled


Local Recycling Programs & Capabilities Can Differ, & Can Impact What Can & Can’t Be Recycled

Plastic Recycling Differs Between Cities & Towns

There are different curbside recycling programs in different local areas.

Each city or town also has different recycling facilities, machinery and technology available.

These variables/factors ultimately determine the different types of plastic that can and can’t be recycled in the area.

What plastics can be recycled in one city or town might be different to another.


How To Find Out What Plastic Can Be Recycled In The Area You Live

Generally, you can check either the government or council website, or the websites of specizlized recycling organisations in your area.

The government/council websites generally tell you of the curbside recycling programs, and any other programs offered. They include information such as what plastics you can or cannot put in the recycling bins provided.

Specialised recycling companies will generally indicate what specialised plastics they recycle, such as plastic bags, plastic straws, or polystyrene for example.

You can try a search such as ‘[your city or municipality name + recycling]’.

For example – in San Francisco – they list the plastics you can recycle at sfrecycles.org

The City Of Melbourne also lists what you can put in your recycling bin at melbourne.vic.gov.au 

Otherwise, you can ring a local recycling collection organisation and ask them directly about specific plastics and types of plastic products, and how to clean or prepare them for putting in the recycling bin.

Note that municipal recycling is different to industrial/commercial recycling.


Examples Of Plastic #1 (PET), and Plastic #2 (HDPE)

Some examples of these plastics in common plastic products and items might include:

Plastic #1 – PET

Soft drink bottles and other hard plastic bottles, and other hard plastic containers and bottles


From maine.gov: ‘#1 Plastics [can include] plastic bottles’ 


Plastic #2 – HDPE

Milk jugs, cleaner and shampoo bottles, and other stiff plastic bottles, jugs and containers


From maine.gov: ‘#2 Plastics [can include] plastic milk and juice bottles, and plastic detergent bottles)’


There’s more examples of Plastics #1 & #2 in this guide, and also in this guide.


Examples Of The Other Plastics – Plastics #3 to #7

There’s examples of Plastics #3 to #7 in this guide, and also in this guide.

As just a few examples, #3 – PVC might include sweet trays, bubble foils and food foils, #4 – LDPE might include shopping bags, #5 – PP might include furniture, toys and luggage, #6 – PS might include toys, refrigerator trays and hard packing, and #7 might include polycarbonate, fibreglass and other types of plastic or plastic items.

You can do an online search for ‘Plastics 1-7 examples’, and it should come up with examples of the above plastics and the products that are commonly used in, in table format for you.

You can also see examples of Plastics #3 to #7 that usually can’t be recycled or aren’t recycled widely in the learn.eartheasy.com resource ‘Plastic By The Numbers’


What Can Different Plastics Be Recycled Into, or Re-Used & Repurposed For?

This guide can shed more light on what the different plastic types and plastic items can be recycled into, or re-used and repurposed for.




1. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/the-different-types-of-plastic-how-many-there-are-what-they-are-most-commonly-produced-what-they-are-used-for-which-types-can-be-recycled-more/

2. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/reasons-why-some-plastic-cant-be-recycled/ 

3. https://sfrecycles.org/ 

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

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

6. https://www.melbourne.vic.gov.au/residents/waste-recycling/Pages/what-goes-in-your-bins.aspx

7. https://blog.nationalgeographic.org/2018/04/04/7-things-you-didnt-know-about-plastic-and-recycling/

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

9. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/should-we-ban-plastic-bags-are-they-better-or-worse-than-other-types-of-bags/

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

11. https://www.forbes.com/sites/scottsnowden/2019/05/14/scientists-create-a-plastic-that-can-be-recycled-indefinitely/#3d3c9781619c

12. https://www.maine.gov/dep/waste/recycle/whatrecyclablesbecome.html

13. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plastic_recycling


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