A quick guide to recycling plastics

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Plastics have attracted a lot of media attention recently due to growing concerns over their impact on wildlife and the environment.

Not all plastics are toxic and some are easily recycled at home, but knowing which types can and cannot be recycled is not always easy. There are seven different types of plastics, some commonly recycled, others almost never recyclable.

Below is a brief overview of the various categories with a short description and their recycling status.

Symbol Type Use Recyclability
PETE – polyethylene terephthalate

Commonly used in consumer products such as soft drink bottles and some packaging. It is recyclable but not suitable for repeated use.

Recycled PET is called rPET – often referred to as Post-Consumer Waste. It can be incorporated into layers of PET sheet for further manufacture.

*Commonly recycled
HDPE – high-density polyethylene

Most commonly recycled plastic used in products such as milk jugs, oil bottles and some plastic bags.

It is stiff and hard-wearing, and both reusable and commonly recyclable.

*Commonly recycled
PVC – polyvinyl chloride

Soft, flexible plastics used in products such as clear plastic food wrapping, cooking oil bottles and toys.

It can be toxic and only less than 1% is recycled.

**Almost never recyclable
LDPE – low density polyethylene

Commonly used in plastic packaging such as Airsac, polyethylene foam, bubble wrap, plastic carrier bags, air pillows and stretch wrap.

It can be reused and is also considered less toxic than some other types of plastics.

***Sometimes recyclable
PP – polypropylene

Tough, lightweight plastic with excellent heat resistance properties.

Commonly used for plastic bottle tops, potato chip bags and packing tape.

It is recyclable and safe for reuse.

*Commonly recycled
PS – polystyrene

Ultra-lightweight plastic commonly used in products such as take-out food containers, egg cartons and foam packaging (EPS).

It breaks easily, so is often used for yogurt 4 packs, for example, where the other plastics will not “snap”, however, this can also contaminate the environment. PS plastic is almost never recyclable.

**Almost never recyclable
Other – any other plastics Any other plastics for which reusability and recyclability rules have not be specified. **Almost never recyclable


*Commonly recycled – commonly recycled at home by placing in the recycling bin

**Almost never recyclable – usually not picked up from households for recycling

***Sometimes recyclable – not widely recycled at kerbside. Check the recycling options with local authorities. Some supermarkets nationwide offer a recycling facility for category 4 plastics.

Macfarlane Packaging can offer a wide range of paper alternatives to plastic packaging and suggest the most-optimised, sustainable solutions for your operation.

To find out more, read our blog article Paper alternatives to plastic packaging, or contact us to find out more.

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