In this guide, we outline the different plastic types, the most commonly produced of them, what they are used for, which ones can be recycled and what they can be recycled for/repurposed to make.
A General Explanation Of Categorising The Different Plastic Types
Types of plastic can be categorised in different ways:
- Primary, or secondary types of plastic
- What the plastic is made of/it’s composition, and what it’s used for
How Many Different Types Of Plastic Are There? – The 6 (or 7) Different Plastic Types
- 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)
Each of the above types of plastic are made with different compounds, with different properties, and are made overall in different ways.
There is another list of plastics outlined at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plastic. Under the ‘Types’ section, they list the commodity plastics, or standard plastics, engineering plastics, and specialist plastics.
Why Do Some People Say There Are Only Two Types Of Plastic?
They might be referring to single use plastics, and other plastics that have a longer lifespan (up to decades).
Check out a graphs showing the lifespan of plastics used in different sectors/industries at https://ourworldindata.org/grapher/mean-product-lifetime-plastic
Most Commonly Produced Plastic Types
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
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
(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.)
What Are The Different Plastic Types Used For?
There is a good table that outlines what the different plastic are used for at https://www.qualitylogoproducts.com/promo-university/different-types-of-plastic.htm
- 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.
Acplasticsinc.com also does a good job of outlining the different types of plastic and their properties, uses and features at https://www.acplasticsinc.com/informationcenter/r/7-different-types-of-plastic-and-how-they-are-used
What Types Of Plastic Can Be Recycled?
- LD, LDPE – non recyclable
- PP – sometimes recycled depending on local context
- PP&A Fibers – sometimes recycled depending on local context
- HDPE – widely recycled
- PET – widely recycled
- PS – non recyclable
- PUT – non recyclable
- PVC – sometimes recycled depending on local context
- Other polymer types – non recyclable
- PETE or PET – recyclable
- HDPE – recyclable
- PVC – sometimes recyclable
- LDPE – sometimes recyclable
- PP – not recyclable
- PS – not recyclable
- Other plastics like nylon and styrene – not recyclable
What Can The Different Plastic Types Be Recycled For/Repurposed To Make?
There is a good table that outlines what the different plastics can be repurposed to make at https://www.qualitylogoproducts.com/promo-university/different-types-of-plastic.htm
You can also read what common household plastic can be recycled into at https://www.alive.com/lifestyle/plastic-pros-and-cons/
Sizes Of Plastic
Plastic may also be categorised by size.
Sizes of plastic can be categorised as:
- 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.