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
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?
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]
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?
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
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?
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
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)’
Examples Of The Other Plastics – Plastics #3 to #7
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?