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Not All Plastics Are Created Equally

Not All Plastics Are Created Equally

Plastic is public enemy number one right now and the increased awareness brought about by documentaries, public campaigning and widespread media attention has brought tackling this pollution to the fore. Plastic can be very difficult to avoid completely and home recycling bins go some way to prolonging the life of plastic before it ends it’s journey as landfill, or is burned for fuel.

However, not all plastics are recyclable leaving well-intentioned consumers filling their recycling bins with non-recyclable plastics and feeling a little confused. Each local authority has different rules on what they collect for recycling. This BBC Q&A has some great information on plastic recycling in the UK and links out to discover what your local authority does.

The key is to reduce the amount of plastic that needs to be recycled by not buying it in the first place. By understanding the different types of plastics better, you can make more informed choices while shopping.

You might have seen the recycling logo with a number inside it on many plastic packages. Each number refers to a different type of plastic, some of which can be recycled, some which can’t.

So which plastics can be recycled?

This varies hugely between local authorities but often it is ‘soft’ plastics that carry the numbers 1 and 2.

1 – PET

This abbreviation refers to polyethylene which is what most clear drinks bottles and fruit punnets are made of. Polyester fabrics are also covered under PET.

2 - HDPE

High density polyethylene and is what milk bottles, shampoo bottles and cleaning product containers are usually made of.

And which ones can’t be recycled?

This leaves plastic codes 3, 4, 5, 6, & 7. These are much harder and less profitable to recycle. Perhaps the worst plastic in this line-up is number 7, which refers simply to ‘other’. Most often, this is for products made from mixed materials that can't be separated. Here’s the breakdown:

3 – PVC

We all know the term PVC, which stands for polyvinyl chloride. Some children’s yogurt pots are made from this which kerbside recycling schemes tend not to cover. PVC is also used for window frames, guttering and drainpipes, as well as shower curtains and many children’s toys.

4 – LDPE

Low density polyethylene is used to make carrier bags, yokes for holding cans together in groups and bread bags. LDPE can only be recycled into low-grade bin bags and other similar products but is very rarely included in kerbside recycling schemes – but keep reading to find out where you can recycle your LDPE…

5 – PP

This abbreviation refers to polypropylene and is used in yogurt pots (but not all of them) soup pots, bottle tops and some waterproof clothing.

6 – PS

There’s no mistaking polystyrene, which is used in cheap takeaway coffee cups and food containers as well as packaging for all kinds of consumer goods.


Yep, plastic code 7 is pretty broad but generally refers to mixed plastics and film, which can't be recycled at all. However, a company called Terracycle prides themselves in being able to recycle anything and many big name brands have partnerships that run with this super recycler. For instance, although Ella’s Kitchen baby food pouches can't be recycled kerbside, they have a scheme with Terracycle where you can find or become a collection point for used pouches, or even post them direct to Terracycle. Next time you are buying ground coffee, baby food or even hair care products that come packaged in mixed materials, check to see if they have a partnership with Terracycle.

Carrier bag recycle points take other plastics too!

Carrier bag recycle points at supermarkets can also be used to recycle a wide range of LDPE, which is low density polythene and recognised by plastic code 4. This includes bread bags, the plastic used to bind bottle and can multipacks, freezer bags, toilet roll wrappers, plastic magazine wrap and thin fruit and veg bags (the ones that stretch before they tear).

By understanding the different types of plastics, you cannot only recycle more efficiently but when plastic consumption becomes difficult to avoid, you can at least choose items packaged in a plastic that can be recycled. Just take a look at the plastic codes.


Not all plastic is created equally &Keep blog BBC