When I first came to Japan, I was introduced to strict recyling of everything that was trash.
In the US we had “Glass, Plastic, Green Waste, and Trash”. So I made the assumption that “plastic” all went into the same bin.
Hold up there….whaaaat? There are different kinds of plastic?
I was quickly educated to flip my plastic bottle over to read the number on the bottom. Woa!
There are many kinds of plastic. Today let’s discuss the top 5-6 kinds of plastic in our lives.
Let’s start at the top.
1) Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET or PETE)
This is the plastic that is in our hands and around our homes everyday. It can be hard and rigid, or soft and flexible. It is light, strong, can be transparent, and is often used for food.
Places you can find PET: water bottles, drink bottles (tea, soft drinks), cooking oil bottles, package trays, rope, clothing.
2) High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE)
Polyethylene is probably the most common plastic. It got ranked as #2 only because we divide this collection into High Density, Low Density, and Linear Low Density. HDPE is cool beause can handle hot temperatures and even strong chemicals.
Places you can find HDPE: containers for cleaning solutions, soap bottles, shopping bags, helmets, pipes and building materials.
3) Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC or Vinyl)
PVC can be made inexpensively and is resilient against chemical and biological damage. (It remains strong in all conditions, however, long exposure to UV light will make the PVC turn brownish and become brittle–paint it or put UV protective coating and it will be fine.) PVC can be made hard and rigid making it perfect for construction, medical applications.
Places you can find PVC: Plumbing pipes, vinyl records, electric wire insulation, credit cards, signs, toys, medical containers (such as IV fluid bags and medical tubing), flooring.
4) Low-Density Polyethylene (LDPE)
At room temperature, LDPE is flexible and non-reactive. This is the plastic you see everywhere. Not as strong as the stiffer HDPE cousin, this softer version is found in drink holders, machine components, computer cases, playgrounds, keyboards, corrosion-resistant work surfaces, and so much more.
Places you can find LDPE: Plastic wrap, Ziploc bags, bubble wrap, garbage bags, grocery bags, drink cups.
5) Polypropylene (PP)
This is strong, flexible, and more heat resistant than the other plastics. It is also the easiest to create using injection moulding. It can be bent and returns to it’s original shape. It is food-safe and and can be used when heating food.
Places you can find PP: Clothing, bottle caps, food containers, straws, food bags for chips, surgery tools, plastic hobby models.
6) Polystyrene (PS or Styrofoam)
Styrofoam is a rigid, low cost plastic that is an excellent insulator. This is why you see it everywhere in food packaging, construction, and shipping uses.
Places you can find Styrofoam: Coffee cups, frozen food containers, product packaging, home and office insulation.