How To Recycle the Seven Plastics

3 comments by Liv McLeod
Meet: The 7 Plastics

Sometimes it feels like the more eco-conscious you become, the more you realise how much you don't know.

Any average person can tell when something is plastic, but few can tell off the bat what type of plastic it is, let alone the best way to recycle it.

This is because there are 7 different types of plastics in circulation, and each needs to be recycled in a different way. And on top of that, there's no consistency - recycling options vary between states.

And on top of THAT, I don't know about you, but I was never taught any of this in school.

No wonder only 12.4% of plastics are recycled every year in Australia.

It's a headache, but if you're unclear on what can be recycled, then there's a chance your wrongly placed milk carton will do a lot of damage.

Non-recyclable items put in the wrong bin could jam machinery, contaminate the final recycled product, or worse, the bin people might just decide to throw the whole thing in landfill.

Too much choice might start to feel like a bad thing, as you stand there with a Tetra-Pak in one hand and an old comb in the other, wondering if we should just give it all up and go back to living in caves.

So if you've ever experienced what I term 'bin-paralysis', then this article is for you.

Below we have a breakdown on the seven different types of plastics, how to recycle them, and what those recycling logos even mean.

Meet The Plastics

Here's a handy infographic on the who's who of the plastics world.


Source: Department of Water, Agriculture and the Environment (2020), 2018-19 Australian Plastics Recycling Survey

Ready to get the lowdown on the big seven? Let's go.

1. Polyethylene Terephthalate (PETE or PET)

The most common plastic. You probably meet it and use it at least 23487 times a day.
Commonly found in:

  • Soda, water, sauce, and salad dressing bottles
  • Condiment jars
  • Medicine bottles and jars
  • Combs
  • Cosmetic bottles and jars

Recyclable? YES. A huge yes. It's easy to get confused by plastic water bottles and assume that they're not recyclable because creating them is bad for the environment, but they are.

2. High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE)

HDPE was originally used for making the pipes in drains and storm sewers (Pennywise's home), but now you can find it in a bunch of different products. It comes in soft and rigid forms.
Commonly found in:

  • Milk and juice containers
  • Grocery bags
  • Trash bags
  • Shampoo, conditioner and soap bottles
  • Cleaning product containers
  • Plastic food packaging
  • Plastic bags

Recyclable? Partially. Check with your council recycler about rigid HDPE cuties - some only accept certain products, like HDPE bottles. 

Sadly, since the collapse of the REDCycle program, there isn't a nationwide method of recycling plastics like soft HDPE. However, depending on which state you live in you may be able to opt-in to a home-collection service for your soft plastics. 

3. Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC)

One of the grandparents of synthetic materials. Unfortunately, it actually contains a bunch of toxins that are bad for us and the plants, leading it to be dubbed the "poison plastic". Remember Velma's iconic red PVC jumpsuit from Scooby Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed? Turns out that was the real killer.
Commonly used in:

  • Plumbing and sewage pipes
  • Grocery and tote bags
  • Shower curtains
  • Tents
  • Clothing

Recyclable? PVC is difficult to recycle, and it's another thing you'd need to contact your local recycler to ask about. You can also contact the Vinyl Council here to chat about end-of-life options for your PVC-ridden product.

4. Low-Density Polyethylene (LDPE)

This one came before the high-density version of polyethylene. It's squishy and squeezy, and comes in soft and rigid forms.
Commonly found in:

  • Squeezable bottles
  • Cling wrap
  • Sandwich bags
  • Shrink-wrap
  • Bottle tops
  • Container lids
  • Dry cleaning bags
  • Garbage bags

Recyclable: As with HDPE, soft LDPE (think: cling wrap) is no longer recyclable using REDCycle bins. Check to see if you can opt-in for a home soft plastic pick-up service, otherwise it goes in the landfill. If you live in Melbourne or Sydney, try RecycleSmart! For the rigid stuff, contact your local recycler before putting it in your bin to see if they accept LDPE!

5. Polypropylene (PP)

PP is quite similar to PET plastic in that it's hard and flexible, but isn't as easily recycled in Australia.

Commonly found in:

  • Tote bags
  • Bottle caps
  • Plant pots
  • Food containers
  • Some take-away containers
  • Disposable cups and plates
  • Prescription bottles

Recyclable? PP is recyclable, but not through curb-side recycling, meaning about 13, 500 tonnes go to landfill every year. In Australia, you'll need to find a dedicated PP5 plastic recycler. This handy website can point out some retail outlets near you that turn your polypropylene waste into plant pots.

6. Polystyrene or Styrofoam (PS)

Polystyrene feels nice but it sucks - it's lightweight, so breaks into small pieces that are a killer for animals.
Commonly found in:

  • Plastic take-away containers
  • Disposable coffee cups
  • Packing foam and peanuts
  • Plastic cutlery

Recyclable: Not curb-side recyclable, but there are special places where you can recycle polystyrene in Australia. Find out where you can recycle it here.

7. Other plastics

When a plastic falls under Category 7, it means it's a blend of the above plastics, or is a plastic that isn't easily recyclable.
Commonly found in:

  • Plastic CDs and DVDs
  • Baby bottles
  • Medical storage containers
  • Eyeglasses
  • Exterior lighting fixtures

Recyclable? ...Eh. Not really. Because this one is up to your local recycler and there's no blanket rule (thanks, Australia), you should check with them what's considered "other plastic waste". Most of the time, plastics in the "other" category are sadly not recyclable.

Capeesh?

Hopefully this crash course in plastic know-how will ease some of your recycling anxiety, and will lead to a lot less perfectly-recyclable plastic being booted to landfill.

This blog is based off general internet research, and as we keep banging on about, you should get in contact with your local recycler to find out what types of plastic they take.

They can be incredibly specific.

And the best news is, we've got the most wonderful resource for finding recycling locations for those finicky products your local recycler doesn't take.

Just put in your location and the product, and click away!

With the new Single-Use Plastics Ban rolling out, we'll have to worry about end-of-life options for plastic less and less.

Because really, polymers are on the out.

Take that, plastic.


3 comments


  • Narry

    Hi I am Narry Singh looking for HDPE plastic to export plastic from Australia my contact number is 0422700000


  • Liv

    Thanks Carolyn, that’s great advice! It’s great to know there are fantastic end-of-life options out there for materials that aren’t curb-side recyclable.


  • Carolyn

    Eyeglasses.. check with your local optometrists as they may have a charity for old glasses. When my mother passed away she had at least 7 pairs of glasses and i added my 3 pair of glasses (as my eye script changed). My local optometrist was very happy to recieve these.
    Also check with Lions and Rotary Clubs for things like old bikes that can be converted to wheelchairs and sent overseas to countries like Bangledesh.


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