What are the Different Types of Plastic?

Alyssa Mertes

Alyssa Mertes

Promo Expert

Published: June 14th, 2019

Plastic is an essential component of many items, including water bottles, combs, and beverage containers. Knowing the difference, as well as the SPI codes, will help you make more informed decisions about recycling.

The seven types of plastic include:

  • Polyethylene Terephthalate (PETE or PET)
  • High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE)
  • Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC)
  • Low-Density Polyethylene (LDPE)
  • Polypropylene (PP)
  • Polystyrene or Styrofoam (PS)
  • Miscellaneous plastics (includes: polycarbonate, polylactide, acrylic, acrylonitrile butadiene, styrene, fiberglass, and nylon)

When it comes to promotional giveaways, and even items we use around the house, there is no material more important than plastic. The same can be said for the items we use at the office. Most of our supplies contain at least a little bit of this material. In fact, humans have thus far produced 9.1 billion tons of plastic!

For the sake of the environment, it’s important to know the different types of plastic and their uses, as well as the resin identification codes found on each for the sake of recycling.

Recycling Codes for Plastic

Understanding the different types of plastic can help consumers like you make more informed decisions related to your health and the environment. In addition, it’s important to become familiar with an item’s SPI (Society of the Plastics Industry) code, which is also known as a resin identification number and is used to classify the different types of plastic. This information will help you sort plastic materials more effectively for recycling.

See a full breakdown of each kind of plastic, along with its associated SPI resin code!

SPI Code 1

Recycling Number: 1

Symbol: Pete

Abbreviation: PETE or PET

Polymer Name: Polyethylene Terephthalate

Uses: Soda bottles, Water bottles, Salad dressing bottles, Medicine jars, Peanut butter jars, Jelly jars, Combs, Bean bags, Rope, Tote bags, Carpet, Fiberfill material in winter clothing

Repurposed to Make: textiles, carpets, pillow stuffing, life jackets, storage containers, clothing, boat sails, auto parts, sleeping bags, shoes, luggage, winter coats

Recyclable: Yes

SPI Code 2

Recycling Number: 2

Symbol: HDPE

Abbreviation: HDPE

Polymer Name: High-Density Polyethylene

Uses: Milk jugs, Juice containers, Grocery bags, Trash bags, Motor oil container, Shampoo and conditioner bottles, Soap bottles, Detergent containers, Bleach containers, Toys

Repurposed to Make: Plastic crates, lumber, fencing

Recyclable: Yes

SPI Code 3

Recycling Number: 3 PVC

Symbol:

Abbreviation: PVC

Polymer Name: Polyvinyl Chloride

Uses: Some tote bags, Plumbing pipes, Grocery bags, Tile, Cling films, Shoes, Gutters, Window frames, Ducts, Sewage pipes

Repurposed to Make: Flooring, mobile home skirting

Recyclable: Yes - but call your recycler

SPI Code 4

Recycling Number: 4 LPDE

Symbol:

Abbreviation: LDPE

Polymer Name: Low-Density Polyethylene

Uses: Cling wrap, Sandwich bags, Squeezable bottles for condiments such as honey and mustard, Grocery bags, Frozen food bags, Flexible container lids

Repurposed to Make: Garbage cans, lumber

Recyclable: Yes - but call your recycler

SPI Code 5

Recycling Number: 5

Symbol: PP

Abbreviation: PP

Polymer Name: Polypropylene

Uses: Plastic diapers, Tupperware, Kitchenware, Margarine tubs, Yogurt containers, Prescription bottles, Stadium cups, Bottle caps, Take-out containers, Disposable cups and plates

Repurposed to Make: Ice scrapers, rakes, battery cables

Recyclable: No

SPI Code 6

Recycling Number: 6 PS

Symbol:

Abbreviation: PS

Polymer Name: Polystyrene or Styrofoam

Uses: Disposable coffee cups, Plastic food boxes, Plastic cutlery, Packing foam, Packing peanuts

Repurposed to Make: Insulation, license plate frames, rulers

Recyclable: No

SPI Code 7

Recycling Number: 7

Symbol: Other

Abbreviation: N/A

Polymer Name: Miscellaneous Plastics (polycarbonate, polyctide, acrylic, acrylonitrile butadiene, styrene, fiberglass, and nylon)

Uses: Plastic CDs and DVDs, Baby bottles, Large water bottles with multiple-gallon capacity, Medical storage containers, Eyeglasses, Exterior lighting fixtures

Repurposed to Make: Plastic lumber (which is often used in outdoor decks, molding, and park benches

Recyclable: Not usually – call your recycler to verify

Recycling Number Symbol Abbreviation Polymer Name Uses Repurposed to Make Recyclable
1 Pete PETE or PET Polyethylene Terephthalate
  • Soda bottles
  • Water bottles
  • Salad dressing bottles
  • Medicine jars
  • Peanut butter jars
  • Jelly Jars
  • Combs
  • Bean bags
  • Rope
  • Tote bags
  • Carpet
  • Fiberfill material in winter clothing
textiles, carpets, pillow stuffing, life jackets, storage containers, clothing, boat sails, auto parts, sleeping bags, shoes, luggage, winter coats Yes
2 HDPE HDPE High-Density Polyethylene
  • Milk jugs
  • Juice containers
  • Grocery bags
  • Trash bags
  • Motor oil container
  • Shampoo and conditioner bottles
  • Soap bottles
  • Detergent containers
  • Bleach containers
  • Toys
Plastic crates, lumber, fencing Yes
3 PVC PVC Polyvinyl Chloride
  • Some tote bags
  • Plumbing pipes
  • Grocery bags
  • Tile
  • Cling films
  • Shoes
  • Gutters
  • Window frames
  • Ducts
  • Sewage pipes
Flooring, mobile home skirting Yes - but call your recycler
4 LDLPE LDPE Low-Density Polyethylene
  • Cling wrap
  • Sandwich bags
  • Squeezable bottles for condiments such as honey and mustard
  • Grocery bags
  • Frozen food bags
  • Flexible container lids
Garbage cans, lumber Yes - but call your recycler
5 PP PP Polypropylene
  • Plastic diapers
  • Tupperware
  • Kitchenware
  • Margarine tubs
  • Yogurt containers
  • Prescription bottles
  • Stadium cups
  • Bottle caps
  • Take-out containers
  • Disposable cups and plates
Ice scrapers, rakes, battery cables No
6 PS PS Polystyrene or Styrofoam
  • Disposable coffee cups
  • Plastic food boxes
  • Plastic cutlery
  • Packing foam
  • Packing peanuts
Insulation, license plate frames, rulers No
7 N/A N/A Miscellaneous Plastics (polycarbonate, polyctide, acrylic, acrylonitrile butadiene, styrene, fiberglass, and nylon)
  • Plastic CDs and DVDs
  • Baby bottles
  • Large water bottles with multiple-gallon capacity
  • Medical storage containers
  • Eyeglasses
  • Exterior lighting fixtures
Plastic lumber (which is often used in outdoor decks, molding, and park benches Not usually – call your recycler to verify

This is based on general research about plastic and should be followed with care. If you have any questions about what can and can’t be recycled, reach out to your local recycler. You can also check these resources:

What Are the Different Types of Plastic?

Take a walk through your house or office and you’re guaranteed to stumble across a variety of plastic products. No material is more commonly used in our everyday lives! It’s easy to classify everything as simply “plastic.”However, there are seven different types you should know about.

1. Polyethylene Terephthalate (PETE or PET) Introduced by J. Rex Whinfield and James T. Dickson in 1940, this plastic is one of the most commonly used on the planet. Interestingly enough, it took another 30 years before it was used for crystal-clear beverage bottles, such as the ones produced by Coca-Cola and Pepsi.

PETE plastics make up 96% of all plastic bottles and containers in the United States, yet only 25% of these products are recycled. By being mindful and making sure to recycle code 1 plastics, you’re helping to ensure a cleaner environment and less landfill pollution!

2. High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE) In 1953, Karl Ziegler and Erhard Holzkamp used catalysts and low pressure to create high-density polyethylene. It was first used for pipes in storm sewers, drains, and culverts. Today, this plastic is used for a widevariety of products.

HDPE is the most commonly recycled plastic because it will not break under exposure to extreme heat or cold. According to the EPA, 12% of all HDPE products created are recycled in a year. This is a very small dent in the planet’s carbon footprint.

3. Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) PVC is one of the oldest synthetic materials in industrial production. It was actually discovered on accident twice; once in 1838 by French physicist Henri Victor Regnault and again in 1872 by German chemist Eugen Baumann. On both occasions, these men found it inside vinyl chloride flasks left exposed to sunlight.

PVC is one of the least recycled materials; generally less than 1% of PVC plastic is recycled each year. It has been called the “poison plastic”because it contains numerous toxins and is harmful to our health and the environment.

4. Low-Density Polyethylene (LDPE) LDPE was the first polyethylene to be produced, making it the grandfather of the material. It has less mass than HDPE, which is why it’s considered a separate material for recycling.

Packaging and containers made from LDPE make up about 56% of allplastic waste, 75% of which comes from residential households. Fortunately, many recycling programs are evolving to handle these products. This means less LDPE will end up in landfills and negatively affect the environment!

5. Polypropylene (PP) J. Paul Hogan and Robert L. Banks of Phillips Petroleum Company discovered polypropylene in 1951. At the time, they were simply trying to convert propylene into gasoline, but instead discovered a new catalytic process for making plastic.

Only about 3% of polypropylene products are recycled in the US, but interestingly enough, 325 million pounds of non-bottle plastics were collected for recycling over a year. In other words, a lot of this plastic is created, but only a small fraction is actually recycled.

6. Polystyrene or Styrofoam (PS) In 1839, German apothecary Eduard Simon accidentally came across polystyrene while preparing medication. He isolated a substance from natural resin and didn’t realize what he had discovered. It took German chemist Hermann Staudinger to research this polymer and expand on its uses.

Since polystyrene is lightweight and easy to form into plastic materials, it also breaks effortlessly, making it more harmful to the environment. Beaches all over the world are littered with pieces of polystyrene, endangering the health of marine animals. Polystyrene accounts for about 35% of US landfill materials.

7. Miscellaneous Plastics The remaining plastics include: polycarbonate, polylactide, acrylic, acrylonitrile butadiene, styrene, fiberglass, and nylon. Of course, there are many differences in the plastics classified as miscellaneous by recycling programs.

Many BPA products fall into this category, which means it's best to avoid them, especially for food products. It is not very easy to break down these plastics once they are created, unless they are exposed to high temperatures. This means they are nearly impossible to recycle.

Want a quick breakdown of each plastic type? Check out this exclusive video!

What Are SPI Codes?

In 1988, the Society of the Plastics Industry (SPI) established a classification system to help people properly recycle and dispose of their plastics. Today, manufacturers follow this coding system and place a number, or SPI code, on each product, usually molded into the bottom.

SPI Code 1

Plastic marked with an SPI code of 1 is made with polyethylene terephthalate. These containers sometimes absorb odors and flavors from foods and drinks that are stored inside them. However, this is still a commonly used plastic for many household items and daily essentials.

SPI Code 2

The SPI code of 2 identifies plastic made with high-density polyethylene.These products are very safe and are not known to leach any chemicals into foods or drinks. Due to the risk of contamination, however, it’s not safe to reuse an HDPE bottle as a food or drink container if it didn’t originally contain some kind of edible substance. In other words, keep the shampoo bottles out of your kitchen cabinet!

SPI Code 3

Plastic labeled with an SPI code of 3 is made with polyvinyl chloride. This kind of plastic should not come in contact with food items as it is a dangerous, toxic chemical. PVC is in many everyday objects, but it’s mostly for industrial use in the plumbing and construction sectors.

SPI Code 4

Plastic marked with an SPI code of 4 is made with low-density polyethylene. This plastic tends to be both durable and flexible. It also does not release harmful chemicals into objects, making it a safe choice for food storage.

SPI Code 5

You’ll find SPI code of 5 on plastic items made with polypropylene. PP can be recycled, but is not as accepted as PETE or HDPE. This type of plastic is strong and can usually withstand higher temperatures. That’s why you’re able to reheat your leftovers in Tupperware without worrying about it melting!

SPI Code 6

Plastic marked with an SPI code of 6 is made with polystyrene. PS can be recycled, but not efficiently; recycling it takes a lot of energy, which means that few places accept it. This is why it’s a good idea to invest in a reusable mug for your daily caffeine fix!

SPI Code 7

The SPI code of 7 is used to designate miscellaneous types of plastic that are not defined by the other six codes. Think of these items as plastics, but ones that don’t conform to society’s rules by fitting into a specific SPI code.

Did you know?

Plastic was first invented in 1907 and was developed as a completely synthetic material.

The plastic made for 3D printing uses Polylactic Acid, which means it’s not safe for recycling.

Plastic bags were introduced to supermarkets in 1977, but have already been banned in Austin, Cambridge, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, and every county in Hawaii.

Get to Know Your Plastic

What are the seven types of plastic? Why do they have different classifications? Scroll through some examples of each SPI Code in this exclusive gallery!

Fun Fact!

The plastic used in Legos is the same plastic that is used in hard hats for construction.

Can Plastic be Made into Fabric?

Can Plastic be Made into Fabric?

Not only does plastic make up a lot of items we use every day, but it’s also used to create fabric. The most common plastic-based fabric is polyethylene terephthalate, also known as polyester.

The plastic used to create polyester fabric is the same material used to make water bottles, meaning your clothing can be made from repurposed materials. Not all polyester items come from recycled plastic though. Sometimes your clothing items are made from factory-produced plastic bits. However, when an item is produced from 100% recycled polyester, it’s most likely from repurposed water bottles.

Can Plastic be Made into Fabric?

Is Fleece Made from Plastic Bottles?

Is Fleece Made from Plastic Bottles?

Since polyester can be made from recycled plastic, manufacturers decided fleece could be as well. Patagonia, a well-known outdoors apparel store, was one of the first clothing retailers to embrace fabric made from recycled plastic. They began incorporating recycled fleece made from soda bottles into its outerwear collection in 1993.

Is Fleece Made from Plastic Bottles?

How Are Plastic Bottles Recycled into Polyester?

Polyester is a synthetic fiber made from plastic. Nowadays, you can make eco-friendly polyester clothing by melting recycled plastic like water bottles. See how the water bottles you typically throw away can be reused to make clothing.

  1. • Step 1: Bottles go through a shredder
  2. • Step 2: Shredded plastic is washed, then dried
  3. • Step 3: Plastic is melted down
  4. • Step 4: The melted plastic is pushed through small holes to create thread
  5. • Step 5: Threads are torn to create a fluffy texture
  6. • Step 6: Spun together into spools for later use
  1. Step 1
    Step 1 https://www.sciencephoto.com/image/356787/800wm

    The bottles are shredded into tiny bits and shipped to the clothing manufacturer.

    Step 1 https://www.sciencephoto.com/image/356787/800wm
  2. Step 2
    Step 2 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GtlihM9m08Y

    The shredded plastic is washed and then dried out. The plastic used to make bottle caps floats in water. Since bottle caps are made from a different type of plastic, they can’t be used to make polyester. This process helps separate the cap piece from the rest of the bottle.

    Step 2 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GtlihM9m08Y
  3. Step 3
    Step 3 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zyF9MxlcItw

    After it’s completely dry, the plastic is fed through a giant funnel and melted down.

    Step 3 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zyF9MxlcItw
  4. Step 4
    Step 4 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zyF9MxlcItw

    The melted plastic will flows through teeny tiny holes to create thin fibers called filaments.

    Step 4 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zyF9MxlcItw
  5. Step 5
    Step 5 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zyF9MxlcItw

    To make polyester, the fibers are torn, which gives them a fluffy texture similar to cotton.

    Step 5 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zyF9MxlcItw
  6. Step 6
    Step 6 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zyF9MxlcItw

    Polyester threads are spun together in spools to be used later for t-shirts, jackets, and sweaters.

    Step 6 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zyF9MxlcItw

The next time you find yourself wearing a recycled polyester sweater or cozy, fleece socks, give yourself a pat on the back. With over 60 million plastic water bottles being thrown out each day, you’ll be doing your part in making sure they get repurposed instead. Want to limit your plastic use? Try reusable water bottles. Either way, you’ll be helping the environment by keeping waste out of landfills.

Products Made from Recycled Water Bottles

Recycled water bottles can be transformed into a wide variety of products. The plastic bottles and caps can both be melted down to make something new.

Take a look at some of the most common items made from plastic bottles!


BOTTLES
CAPS

BOTTLES

T-Shirts

T-Shirts


Sleeping Bag Insulation

Sleeping Bag Insulation


Sweaters

Sweaters


More Plastic Bottles

More Plastic Bottles


CAPS

Car Batteries

Car Batteries


Rakes

Rakes


Brooms

Brooms


Yarn

Yarn


The Future of Plastic

People are more aware of the negative effects of plastic than ever before. As such, they’re pushing for solutions that could lead to a greener future!

https://abcnews.go.com/

What is PDK Plastic?

To put it in simple terms, poly(diketoenamine), or PDK, is an up-and-coming plastic that can be remade over and over again without ever having to go into landfills. This is a big deal as plastic is a material that’s known for being tricky to recycle.

PDK was created by Berkeley Lab where a team of scientists took recycling into consideration when designing their plastic from a molecular perspective. Up until that point, no one thought about the environmental concerns related to plastic.

https://abcnews.go.com/

As of 2019, research is still being done on PDK plastic, but the goal is for this new material to be used for textiles, foams, and even 3D printing!

Why Is This Important?

Recycling is an important way to ensure sustainability and a green planet for future generations. Being mindful with your plastics can make all the difference in the world to the health of the environment. In fact, for every ton of plastic that’s recycled, an estimated 7 yards of landfill space is saved. And with 80% of Americans having easy access to plastics recycling programs, there’s no excuse to be anything other than green!

Did you know?

Enough plastic is put into landfills to circle the Earth four times!

The Bottom Line

While the plastic resin codes don’t necessarily indicate the toxins used in the plastics, they are useful for distinguishing between the different kinds of plastics. SPI codes for plastics help you better understand the products you’re using and how they affect your health and the environment. Informed consumers like you can demand that plastic manufacturers provide better products. So keep these plastic classification numbers in mind, and don't forget to put your newfound knowledge to use—always check a product's classification code prior to recycling it or re-using it. Every small step we take ensures a better tomorrow for our planet!

Alyssa Mertes

Alyssa Mertes

Alyssa is the Lead Copywriter at Quality Logo Products. As a promo expert, she's uncovered the world’s first custom tote bag, interviewed the guy behind rock band ACDC’s logo, and had a piece published by the Advertising Specialty Institute, a leader in the promotional products industry.

References

Complete Recycling LLC, “Plastic Recycling and Resin Identification Codes”

Scranton Products, “Different Types of Plastic and SPI Codes Used to Classify Them”

Miller, Clay, Ways 2 Go Green, “Plastic Recycling & Plastic Identification Codes”

Earth Easy, “Plastic by the Numbers”

Willis, Amanda, Earth 911, “The Ultimate Plastic Breakdown”

Scharping, Nathaniel, Discover Magazine, “Here’s How Much Plastic Humanity Has Produced”

Thought Co., “Recycling Different Plastics”

West, Larry, Thought Co., “Why Recycle Plastics?”

Encyclopedia Britannica, “Polyethylene Terephthalate”

Gabriel, H. Lester, Plastic Pipe Institute, “History and Physical Chemistry of HDPE”

PVC, “The History of PVC;” Plastics Make it Possible, “A Professor Plastics Feature Article”

American Chemical Society, “Discovery of Polypropylene and the Development of a New High-Density Polyethylene”

Bellis, Mary, The Inventors, “Polystyrene and Styrofoam”

D’Alessandro, Nicole, Eco Watch, “22 Facts About Plastic Pollution (And 10 Things We Can Do About It)”

Fact Republic, “35 Interesting Facts about Plastics”

Danehy, J. (2016, March 29). Science Made Simple: How Plastic is Turned into Polyester. Retrieved from https://www.fairharborclothing.com/blogs/news/science-made-simple-how-plastic-is-turned-into-polyester

What Plastics Can Become. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.recycleandrecoverplastics.org/consumers/kids-recycling/plastics-can-become/