Types of Plastic Products and Packaging
Recyclable plastics are coded with numbers ranging from 1 to 7 which represent the type of plastic. Plastic food and beverage containers are usually categorized as number 1 or 2, but, there are many other types of recyclable plastics beyond food and beverage containers.
Plastic bags and films, like shrink wrap, are usually categorized as plastic code #4, or LDPE (Low-density polyethylene). This kind of plastic is used to manufacture grocery bags and some flexible lids and bottles. Rigid plastics like Polypropylene are typically labeled as plastic code #5, and can be found in everything from flexible and rigid packaging to fibers and large molded parts for automotive and consumer products. Other rigid plastics like PVC (Polyvinyl chloride) are typically labeled as plastic code #3 and include pipes and vinyl, as well as some plastic containers and packaging. Most plastic food and beverage containers can be recycled in a “bottles and cans” mix or single stream recycling mix, while many others need more specialized systems to be properly recycled.
Rigid plastics are a common material found in supermarkets, often in the form of icing buckets, seafood trays and pharmaceutical containers – items that have not typically been accepted in most recycling programs. However, there are options and markets for stores who want to take the next step in waste diversion and increase their recycling revenue. The Association of Postconsumer Plastics Recyclers (APR) has several resources available to supermarkets who are interested in collecting rigid plastics, including details about the different sources and how to streamline collection. For more information, videos and pictures, and information about launching a successful program, visit Recycle Grocery Rigid Plastics.
Why should you recycle plastics?
In today’s economy, many businesses recycle plastic items because it saves them money on waste disposal costs. As a petroleum product, plastic is susceptible to rising oil prices and can be very valuable on a per ton basis. Additionally, the market for scrap plastic as a feed stock has increased and many plastic items that may not have had viable recycling markets several years ago, now have processors seeking those materials. Recycling is also good for the planet and your local community because it helps conserve valuable resources, reduces pollution from production of new materials, and creates new jobs.
Currently, all single polymer plastic containers are banned from disposal in the state by the Massachusetts Waste Bans.
How are plastics recycled?
Conventional recycling programs that accept plastic containers sort these containers by resin type, and send them off for further processing (grinding/flaking) and re-manufacturing. Many businesses generate film plastics such as shrink wrap, stretch film, and sheet plastic all of which can be recycled and done so cost effectively when generated in large quantities. Given the recent rise in the value of plastics, many types of rigid plastics are also being collected and recycled effectively. This includes buckets, trays, piping, even recycling bins, just to name a few.
Once collected and sorted by resin type, plastics are typically either ground up or flaked, cleaned and resold to a plastics manufacture to be made into new plastic products.
What happens after plastics are recycled?
Used plastic can be made into a second generation of products including clothing and bags, durable building and construction products, door and window frames, exterior moldings, low-maintenance fencing and decks.
Learn about recycling other materials
For more information on other commonly recycled materials visit these pages:
- Bottles & Cans
- Construction Materials
- Fluorescent Lamps/Light Bulbs
- Food Waste
- For a directory of available on-site technologies for depackaging food and liquid waste, see our food depackaging technologies guide.
- Find out how to start or improve your own recycling program.
- Find a hauler or processor for recyclable materials in your area, search our Recycler Database.
- Find out how you can purchase recycled products, check out our Buying Recycled Products section.
- For more information on recycling in MA check out the MassDEP Factsheet: Where does it all go?
- Learn about Massachusetts Waste Bans