Knowing your plastics can mean the difference between a sustainable work operation and one that could be doing more for the environment. There are seven broad types of plastics in operation in the world today, including six distinctive types and many smaller types falling into the “other” category.
Today, we’ll touch on all of these within the context of the modern world, while also exploring which types are specifically used to create which products. You’ll be well informed about the various kinds, in order to spot any potential gaps in your operations moving forward. A switch from one to another might even lead to better operational efficiency as a whole.
Plastic in a Modern World
Plastic has long been a part of daily life for billions of people around the world, thanks to its cost-effectiveness, versatility, weight, and general durability¹. In an industrial setting, plastics are used for maintaining the quality of products, as a safety precaution, and in a bid to reduce the waste burden around the world.
Younger generations are asking tough questions about what it is doing to the well-being of the planet, along with tangible steps in order to encourage reusing and recycling. No matter which type you work within your supply chain, this outlook should always be kept in mind too.
The 7 Different Types of Plastic
In no particular order, the following list details the seven most used types of plastic in the world today² along with a few primary examples³ of where they are commonly used or found:
- High-Density Polyethylene (or HDPE): Various toys, detergent bottles, buckets, pipes, bins.
- Low-Density Polyethylene (or LDPE): Clingwrap, bubble wrap, garbage bags, grocery bags.
- Polypropylene (aka PP): Straws, prescription medication, bottle caps, containers for food, crates.
- Polystyrene (or Styrofoam): Shipping packaging, cups, egg cartons, building insulation.
- Polyethylene Terephthalate (or PET): Bottles for drinks, plastic jars, polyester clothing, rope.
- Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC/Vinyl): Oxygen masks, credit cards, plumbing pipes, medical tubes.
- Other: Including all other types not covered here, like eyeglasses, lighting fixtures, electronics and sports bottles.
Polyethylene is the most common plastic in the world and is classified into three types: High-Density, Low-Density, and Linear Low-Density.
High-Density Polyethylene is stronger than low-density polyethylene and resistant to moisture and chemicals, which makes it ideal for cartons, containers, pipes, and other building materials.
Low-density polyethylene is a softer, clearer, and more flexible plastic. It’s most commonly used as a liner inside beverage cartons, and in corrosion-resistant work surfaces as well as other products.
Polypropylene is by far the most durable types of plastic compared to the others. Polypropylene is heat resistant, which makes it ideal for things such as food packaging and food storage that are made to hold hot items or be heated. It’s flexibility allows for it to be able to bend mildly but to also hold its shape and strength, also making it durable.
Polystyrene, also known as styrofoam, is a firm plastic that is inexpesnive and retains insulation. This makes it a staple in the food, packaging and construction industries. Similar to PVC, polystyrene is considered to be a dangerous plastic as it is susceptable to leach a harmful neurotoxin (called styrene), which can be absorbed by food and ingested by humans.
Polyethylene Terephthalate is another common plastic that is mostly used due to it being both lightweight as well as being strong. This kind of plastic is typically transparent and commonly used in food packaging and fabrics.
Polyvinly chloride is a firm, sturdy plastic that is resistant to chemicals and harsher conditions which makes it desirable for building and construction purposes. This kind of plastic doesn’t conduct electricity which makes it an excellent choice for high-tech applications. Due to polyvinyl chloride being a such a durable and reliable plastic, it is also widely used in medical aplliacations because it is impermeable to bacteria and can be easily disinfected.
However, witht that being said, polyvinyl chloride is also the most dangerous plastic to human health as it is known to leak dangerous toxins throughout its lifecycle.
The”other” category is a collection for other types of plastic that don’t necessarily belong in any of the other six categories or are combinations of multiple types of plastics.This category needs to be included and mentioned because it is most likely that you will come across “other” plastics when it comes to recycling. The most important thing to note is that these plastics aren’t typically recyclable.
Sustainability as a Balancing Act
Sustainability is a broad discipline that is starting to be taken very seriously by individuals and businesses around the world. It encompasses striking a delicate balance between the ecosystems on the planet⁴ in a largely consumerist society. Governments in first-world countries have begun implementing tax regulations to curb carbon emissions and encourage the use of renewable fuel sources. If your business uses any kind of plastic that we’ve covered here today, it’s worth exploring whether there are better options to consider in terms of reusability and recycling potential.
Bankable Plastic Products for Your Supply Chain
At MPC, we’re firm believers in using bankable plastic products that have come from or will end up being reused and recycled. With decades of experience selling plastic products to businesses all over South Africa, we have diverted 24 000 tons of plastic (over the last 4 years) from going to landfill and managed to convert this into new products.
If you’re looking for plastic products that have been designed with the well-being of the planet in mind, look no further. Our team will be able to help you, as well as point you in the right direction should you be unsure about which plastic types you should be including in your operations.
Ritchie, H., & Roser, M. (n.d.). Plastic Pollution. Our World in Data. Retrieved June 1, 2022, from https://ourworldindata.org/plastic-pollution
In-House Editorial. (n.d.). How To Solve The Plastic Problem: Using Plastic Responsibly. Mpact Plastic Containers. Retrieved June 1, 2022, from https://www.mpcsa.co.za/blogs/mpact-blog/how-to-solve-the-plastic-problem-using-plastic-responsibly
Hardin, T. (2021, February 23). 7 Types of Plastic That Are Most Common. Plastic Oceans International. Retrieved June 1, 2022, from https://plasticoceans.org/7-types-of-plastic/
Mason, M. (n.d.). What Is Sustainability and Why Is It Important? | EnvironmentalScience.org. Environmental Science. Retrieved June 1, 2022, from https://www.environmentalscience.org/sustainability